CD Reviews

Believers, Mesabi and Family of Love


A.A. Bondy Believers (Fat Possum)

Road life is disorienting, which explains why A.A. Bondy, who has toured nonstop since his 2007 debut American Hearts, gathers 10 songs, in his own words, “conjured during and between dreams, in bare rooms, and on the late-night streets of America.” In contrast to the spare, gritty blues-folk of his two earlier efforts, Believers is based on languid, moody, wistful, semi-hollow-body electric guitar chords, like what a highway-weary Bon Iver might compose in truck-stop cafés instead of remote cabins. No falsetto; Bondy tenders a battle-scarred tenor, reedy and fraught with longing. Hazy as these songs are, they possess classic structure, from the Sam Cooke-meets-Mazzy Star “Surfer King” to the simmering midtempo “The Twist,” which isn’t about dance-floor torsion but rather the wrenching, wretched maneuvers of the human heart: “In ritual positions,” sings Bondy, “I kneel before this love, far away from the world.” A lovely, lingering fever vision. ★★★★☆


Tom Russell Mesabi (Shout! Factory)

Boomers’ self-mythologizing is infinite, sure, but the entertainers who weaned them remain compelling compared to our bland Lohan-centric era. Arizona border-dweller Tom Russell, first-rate songwriter in his own right, makes no apologies—hence, Mesabi, mostly a tribute to perhaps the most creative talent of the 20th century, Bob Dylan. Mesabi is part of northern Minnesota (“Bethlehem of a troubadour kid,” sings Russell) where Dylan grew up; the title track sketches a vivid portrait of the artist as a young man, listening to Howling Wolf on Mexican radio. James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor appear in mournful ballads “A Land Called ‘Way Out There’” and “Furious Love,” respectively. Obscure figures also get their due; Russell eulogizes Bobby Driscoll (child actor and voice of Peter Pan who died penniless) in jangle-rocker “Farewell Never Never Land,” and extols Cliff Edwards (voice of Disney’s Jiminy Cricket) in Western-swingin’ “The Lonesome Death of Ukulele Ike.” You don’t need to be a boomer to dig this folky requiem, but it helps. ★★★☆☆


Dom Family of Love (Astralwerks)

Fuzzy, skuzzy and stoned, the teenybopper summertime space-pop of Worcester, Mass.’s Dom hasn’t changed since the band’s 2010 Astralwerks debut EP. The music is effervescent, energetic and, at first listen, disposable—except for the fact that you keep spinning the damn disc over and again in a misguided effort to keep it from getting stuck in your head. “Damn” is a perfect example, all layered and chiming guitars, oooh-oooh vocals and distorted bass, creating an aura of adolescent nostalgia for those of us raised on jittery, synth-kissed ’80s alt-rock. “Telephone” even brandishes a silly-as-hell phone touchpad solo that’s laughable—until you recall that, well, you did exactly the same thing when you were drunk in high school. But it’s the keyboard dance-rock of “Happy Birthday Party” that stands as the five-song EP’s highlight, certain to get you grooving in your parachute pants with the chorus “It’s fun to get gnarly.” My inner 16-year-old can’t get enough. ★★★☆☆

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