Taking great influence from past legendary American troubadours like Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt, David Dondero has adopted the story telling style and journey lessons to his brand of folk/rock that inspired Bright Eyes (he is currently on Conor Oberst’s Team Love record label). His appropriately titled fourth album, The Transient, is made up mostly of stories about traveling the road the old fashion way, with narratives from the venues and roads to the people he’s met on his way. With his roots clearly evident, the former This Bike is a Pipe Bomb drummer crafts songs with simple, yet effective melodies, acoustically and electric, detailed, personal lyrics and a soulful, at times shaky voice.
Opener The Living in the Dead
is the perfect introduction to not only the album but Dondero himself. Declaring how he’s traveled to shows only to end up playing to the sound guy, studied highway archeology, being a self proclaimed convenience store connoisseur and other similar characteristics that give a good general picture of what Dondero’s about, it is a good intro song and one of his best too. The song itself is a fast paced folk-punk romp brimming with energy and spirit with a catchy sing-a-long chorus. Ashes on the Highway
is another standout track where David says of how when he dies he wants his ashes to be spread on the highway and let the traffic determine where it goes. But other than the aforementioned songs, and the rollicking, swift picking guitar of See It Clear
, The Transient is a fairly mellow album, with more serious themes and tones.
Dondero steers clear from using clichés, which isn’t easy, but he pulls it off well. The songs sound genuine and you tend to really believe what he is saying, or you get intrigued by the stories. One of the best songs on the album is the prison blues of Twenty Years
. A somber, depressing song, it has verse after verse that sticks out, one being the line “in 1979 man I was always high, I don’t remember committing the crime, but I remember doing the time; it’s been twenty years”, before a violin finishes the four minute song beautifully. Going Back to Wilmington
is a nice, catchy acoustic song that shows Dondero taking a different approach vocally with his lighter tone, almost resembling the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz. Lyrically the song is about heading back to his hometown with lines like “I'm going to Wilmington, that's now where I belong; I'm going to Wilmington, gonna write me a brand new song”. The Stars Are My Chandelier
displays Dondero’s acoustic talent, and has a wonderfully upbeat acoustic rhythm and an enthusiastic vocal outing.
The Transient isn’t as varied in terms of diversity as some of his later albums, but there are a few tunes here that stray a bit away from the norm for him. Vaporize
is a dense, eerie song that has David using an almost whispering technique, and the song picks up with slow, experimental drumming (for him), though the song itself is one of the lesser ones. And the additions of violin to Twenty Years
and piano to Less Than the Air
are nice touches to the record. The title track is another solid song that uses gently strummed chords and a building up intense chorus to make it standout. Lyrically it’s an anthem for the road with the albums theme present right in the chorus: “I am the transient, only feel good when I go, Let's go down the road 'till we know where it goes”.
The Transient is a great underrated folk record that hits upon many of Dondero’s strengths, especially lyrically. Songs like The Living and the Dead are fun sing-a-longs with the attitude of punk with it while others like Twenty Years are slower songs with powerful story telling, and in between is more than enough to keep the listener fascinated. In the album there should be something to appeal to any fans of the singer-songwriter field.