Album Review: Dominic Valvona

Simon Bonney ‘Past, Present, Future’

(Mute) 3rd May 2019


Arguably one of the great voices of Australian music over the last four decades, Simon Bonney is nothing if not proficient in taking hiatuses. Emerging from just the most recent one, five years after the release of the last Crime And The City Solution opus American Twilight – itself, the first album by the iconic alienated nihilists turn beatific augurs of country-doom in twenty years -, and twenty-odd years since the shelving of his third solo LP Eyes Of Blue, Bonney makes a welcome return to the fold.

Prompted by the decision of Mute Records to facilitate the release of that fabled last solo songbook, the Past, Present, Future collection is both a reminder, featuring as it does tracks from both the 1992 Forever and 1994 Everyman albums, and showcase for six previously unreleased tracks from Eyes Of Blue.

Caught in the industry merger machinations of the late 90s, the Detroit imbued-recorded Eyes Of Blue fell victim to the fallout of A&M Records, “dissolved” into the behemoth of the Universal Music Corp just as Bonney was agreeing a deal with them to release it. As a consequence, what would have been his third solo outing and the perfect bookend to a brilliant run of country blues inspired songbooks, instead sat in the vaults, waiting patiently to get released.

Not new material but a catalyst for projects going forward, this solo collection proves as prescient today as it did back then. Especially the beguiling cover turns homage (in light of the recent passing of Scott Walker) of the brooding maestro’s stately majestic lament to fading beauty and decadence, ‘Duchess’. Brought to Bonney’s attention during recording suggestions for Eyes Of Blue by his producer on those sessions, Dave Feeny, Walker’s sullen lyrical masterpiece proves a congruous fit for the Australian’s rich lap steel and Dobro resonator thumbed and waning country malady signature style.





The effects of time and the changing landscape are running themes in all of Bonney’s solo work. Echoing loudly with the ongoing divisive debate of the present, many of these beautifully articulated sad declarations feature a protagonist searching for their place in the world, set often to a kind of American West favoured by The Band, but also the Outback. Alienation is a given: Bonney’s own past travails richly mined; the teenage runaway leaving behind the vast rustic expanses of Tasmania for the city life of Sydney, via the Australian metropolis’s Red Light district and squats. It was of course where the fourteen-year-old outsider formed the first incarnation of Crime And The City Solution, one of four such phases, the next taking shape with a move to London in 1984 and including both Mick Harvey and Rowland S. Howard (alongside the equally notable Harry Howard and Swell Maps’ Epic Soundtracks), the third such version taking shape in Berlin (embracing musicians from the city’s post-punk and post-Krautrock scenes, such as Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke), and fourth, in Detroit.

The greatest panoramic opus, an unedited version of the Everyman LP’s leitmotif, is in three parts a grand sweep with military snap snares. Bonney in resigned fatalism almost, swoons “I’m looking for a life I can’t explain” as a full-on assault from all directions bombards him. ‘Ravenswood’, taken from the Forever LP, is in a similar Western mythos mode a hard worn thunder and rain-beaten plaints with the age-old “rain on, rain on, rain on me” yearn that sets our high plains drifter on a course for redemptive change. Following in its wake is a ran of highlights from both Forever and Everyman, including the Orbison plays twanged angel to the Lone Justice declaration ‘Don’t Walk Away From Love’, the Lynchian motel spell (complete with a bongo anguish) ‘There Can Only Be One’, and bowing Greyhound bust tour through Texas Rose country runaway ‘Where Trouble Is Easier To Find’.

Much of the Bonney songbook, delivered with earnest, deep timeless country-imbued veneration, aches, even worships, for a string of muses; an undying, unwavering love to both the unattainable and lost. One such elegiac object of such pathos-inspired yearning is Edgar Allan Poe’s famous Annabelle Lee –the metaphorical lamentable figure of the Gothic polymath’s last poem -, who appears on both the eponymous and title tracks from Eyes OF Blue. Lovingly conveyed, even if it marks the death of that lady, it proves symmetry to the album’s profound poetic loss of influence, desire and alluring surface beauty of Duchess. Eyes Of Blue, which makes up half of this collection, follows on from the previous solo works perfectly. A touch deeper, even reverent perhaps, but every bit as bathed in country suffrage. Salvaged at long last, that lost album offers a closure of a kind. Proving however, to chime with the present, far from dated, the Eyes Of Blue part of this collection is a perfect finish to a great run of epic, though highly intimate, solo opuses; the songwriting as encapsulating and grandiose, earthy as you would expect.

Bonney remerges just when we need him; back after many setbacks, but enjoying music again (he says). Past, Present, Future can also be seen as perfect compilation of that solo catalogue for both hardy fans of the artist and as an introduction to one of Australia’s outstanding talents.





Words: Dominic Valvona

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REVIEW: DOMINIC VALVONA




Josh T. Pearson   ‘The Straight Hits’    Mute,  13th April  2018

Changing his tune (literally) Josh T. Pearson, the lonesome blues Texan with a wagonload of baggage, heads out on to the range with a swag bag of more joyful, unencumbered ‘golden hits’ on his latest album for Mute Records.

Rather ironic for an artist who despite writing and recording for decades has only one previous solo album to his name (2011’s agonizing confessional Last Of The Country Gentlemen), The Straight Hits feels like a ‘best of’ songbook.

Leaving behind the more apocalyptic gospel concepts of his work with the short-lived but acclaimed Lift To Experience, whose 2001 masterpiece The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads left such an indelible mark on the dirty country and Americana blues scenes, Pearson sets himself new parameters; adhering to a five-point rules system for transforming a “batch of tunes” he’d been working on for a decade. Earmarked originally for the ‘unrecorded’ Bird Songs album, the nine original songs on The Straight Hits are a lighter and as the title suggests ‘straighter’ attempt to change the mood.

Though just as heavy reference wise to the faith, obsessions, cruelties and power of love, Pearson has overcome the all-too real addictions and the collapse of his marriage to fire-off a distilled, riff heavy version of cowboy romance. Motivated recently to share more (“before it’s too late”), an epiphany of a sort sparked by the divisions of the 2016 US elections moved him to question if it was better to spread joy then mope and spread more anger. But it was whilst reading (as you do) the 14th century epic poem The Conference Of The Birds by Attar of Nishapur that Pearson muses, finally turned on the creative tap and helped ease this songbook’s passage.





Far from set in stone – the unwritten rock’n’roll law that all rules are written to be broken is invoked on the tender yearning A Love Song (Set Me Straight) – each song must at least try to follow Pearson’s self-imposed requirements: Number one, all songs must have a verse, a chorus and a bridge; two, the lyrics must run sixteen lines or less; three, they must have the word ‘straight’ in the title; four, that title must be four words or less; and five, they must submit to song above all else i.e. “You do as she tells you, whatever the song tells you”, “You bend to her, and not her to you.”

This probably cuts the fat, indulgence certainly, and makes for a more dynamic sound; especially on the alternative sports anthem opener Straight To The Top! – A pumped-up straight chaser, straight out the gate explosion of country slurred rock and gospel that sounds like Jeff Buckley at the rodeo. Conceived as the sort of fired-up soundtrack Pearson would like to hear, though he says he’s no particular fan, at an American football game, as he prepares for a high-five celebration with his fellow fans. It’s a great start. A fucking great start actually; the faith amped up to match his evangelical bounce back from the precipice: “If you knock me down, I’m gonna rise again. Time after time, there’s no way you can win.”

Taking on a curled lip croon Pearson goes on to sing about interloping lovers on the kooky desert cosmic Straight At Me – playing with the analogies of the old west, and in particular the reservations, the protagonist of this song a native Indian – whilst he reimagines Richard Hell leading The Pretenders through the High Chaparral and bawdy salon piano sing-a-long on Give It To Me Straight. The travails of love are played out to a mix of these more rowdy new wave of Americana hits and more lonesome, serious laments; some of which have a touch of irony, such as the calmer acoustic resigned Damn Straight, the album’s sole cover – originally by the Austin singer/songwriter Jonathan Terrell -, the author of which pines over losing his girl to the seductive power of Nashville’s famous cowboy swooners and crooners. Namechecking a litany of country music legends (“Waylon, Willie and Merle”), the achy-breaky heart singer pines “How could you take her just like that?”, “How could she leave me for a man she don’t even know?”

The Straight Hits is a most rallying rodeo that gives the Americana soundtrack a much-needed kick-in-the-pants; the themes of love, whether it’s the analogical kind, ‘take me right now’ kind, or lamentable kind, enacted across a varied but blistering songbook. Rejecting the stimulants and his demons, Pearson choses the good ol’ fashioned power and redemptive spirit of gospel ye-ye and country rock’n’roll. And don’t it sound just mighty fine and swell!



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