Review Summary: With sparse instrumentation and a Southern rasp, A.A. Bondy proves you don't need anything more than a voice and a guitar to make something magical.
Verbena was a band of minimal mainstream success. Two of their singles received playtime on radio stations nationwide, although little fuss was created of it. Widely regarded as a 2nd rate Nirvana, thanks to a heavily influenced grunge sound, the band collapsed in 2003 and disbanded. 4 years later, former lead singer Scott Bondy dropped the first name and with it the memories of his grunge background, re-emerging as A.A. Bondy, trusty folk troubadour.
is everything you’d expect a folk record to be. Expect to hear Bondy’s southern drawl above acoustic strumming and a harmonica. Expect to hear songs about love, religion and Billy Joe. You can damn well expect the Dylan references too. The thing about Bondy is…well, he plays his cards right. The instrumentation is sparse, his voice rarely ventures above a melodic rasp, and he’s the kind of songwriter that can convey depth in the most simplistic terms.
There’s nothing specifically surprising about this record but therein lies one of it’s key strengths. This is what it is and Bondy makes no attempt to disguise that. The majority of the songs end as they started but make no mistake; this doesn’t make the musical journey any less exciting. Simplicity holds strong throughout, proving that rarely does Bondy need more than his guitar and harmonica to convey the soul of his music, his tales of wayward American souls accompanied with scornful political and religious undertones.
In album highlight “Black Rain, Black Rain” for example, Bondy uses lines such as “And love, it don't die / It just goes from girl to girl” to a lasting impression on the listener, in that sort of vulnerable honesty that’s so hard to question. Something American Hearts
accomplishes, that most fail to, is found quite simply in its title. The heart put into Bondy’s songs surpasses the obstacle of production and the atmosphere conveyed could just as easily be the listener sitting watching Bondy sing in an abandoned barn as much as it is (unfortunately) just the listener sitting at home with a pair of headphones on. Lines as seemingly cliché as “And it's love that's tearing them down/And it's love that will turn them around” are made genuine above a slow drum beat and acoustic twang through no other means than Bondy’s subdued cries. He is the heartfelt premise that makes everything else feasible. He’s reached out with open eyes and grabbed himself a piece of the country he holds dear, citing “I was born with an American heart.”
Of course, one would worry that with an album that refuses to throw anything out of left field, the sound may grow repetitive or dull. Don’t. More upbeat songs such as “Rapture (Sweet Rapture” and “Lovers’ Waltz” provide perfect variation to the slower “There’s a Reason” and “American Hearts”. Although some songs may be formulaic, the elements that create them are engaging and distinguishable enough to hold the attention of the listener, proving it anything but tedious. Moments such as the harmonica solo on “Lovers’ Waltz” or the gentle choir backdrop of ‘Ooohs’ in “Of The Sea” provide enough variation to retain individuality between the songs, rather than allowing them to blend into a tedious folk monotony.
There are no unexpected twists and turns, there aren’t any musical tangents, and there isn’t anything that will take you by surprise. This record is all the better for it. Ultimately, there’s no need for anything more than Bondy and his guitar. So why bother?