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September 19, 2000

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Tracy Bonham
Down Here
Island Def Jam Music Group
825 Eighth Avenue
NY, NY 10019

Sometimes you buy your ticket and you take your chances. Sometimes you get the ride of your life, sometimes you come crashing into the station, and sometimes…sometimes you never even get off the ground. That has got to be how Tracy Bonham must feel about her second full-length album Down Here. Released with little fan fare in April, Bonham’s sophomore effort has languished on the shelves until it became the latest cautionary tale about the pitfalls of the record industry (see Driven by internet interest and grassroots fanfare, Down Here has finally been getting the airplay or at least netplay it deserves.

Sophomore albums are notoriously difficult to make, but Tracy Bonham has produced a hard driving straight-ahead rock album to be proud of. The album appears to be one hell of a break-up, men suck album on the surface, but as you peel away at the edges you begin to see that it is more an anthem of an artist who doesn’t feel comfortable being a commercial success. With titles like "Jumping Bean", "Free", and "You can’t always not get what you don’t want" Down Here appears to be the latest example of female angst. But it takes on an eerily sad tone when you realize that it’s really a tale of how hard it is for a musician to remain true to his vision and remain a commercial success.

All that aside, Down Here might have started as a one in a long list of cautionary tales, but it breaks out as a triumph. The lyric is provocative, the musicianship is strong and the production is lighthanded enough to let the raw energy bleed through. I think this is an incredible album that illustrates the developing talent of its author. In this time of industry driven pop and prefab teen queens and kings, it will be the singer-songwriter that will rise like a phoenix from down here.

-- Thomi Sharpe

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Will Kimbrough
WaxySilver Records, 2000

Yes, This is the name of Will Kimbrough’s long-awaited solo album. I could waste my entire allotted space on This. Local boy makes This. Or perhaps, F**k This! How about This is great! Waited for This? Is This what we ordered? In a telephone interview with Kimbrough he said that’s exactly what he intended, to lead the listener to a new place. Recorded at EMI Studio in Nashville, Kimbrough’s first release as a solo artist took over a year to be completed as tracks were laid down during breaks from his travels as guitarist with Kim Richey, Allison Moore and Josh Rouse. In his spare time he also started his own record label, WaxySilver, as a refuge for artists like himself who are treated like last year’s Flavor-of-the-Month by the big guys. The label also issued the previously unavailable Will and the Bushman early effort, Gawk.

This was produced by Kimbrough, JD Andrew and David Gehrke. What does a producer do? The answer varies widely. Some producers are excellent musicians (often better than their client), some are technicians, engineers or cheerleaders. At worse they can be discouraging, impatient or expensive. When the moons are in the seventh house, the results are magical. Daniel Lanois, Don Was, and George Martin are all producers that have shared in the creation of hit records. Primarily, producers provide impartial "ears" to a project in hopes of obtaining the best work possible. Kimbrough’s decision to self-produce his album was driven by financial and scheduling reasons. Good producers are expensive and his on-again/off-again timetable was prohibitive.

This contains ten songs wonderfully sequenced with a rocking start and a let-me-down easy ballad at the end. The first track, "Closer to the Ground," opens with bassist Mike Grimes’ rubber-band strumming and invites the subject to "come on in, maybe then we can talk it over." Nine of the songs contain the word "you." When I spoke with Kimbrough, I asked if he thought listeners would read too much in his lyrics. Do all the songs have particular subjects? Are they composites? "No problems," he said. To him, attentive and inquiring listeners are what music is all about.

"Chimayo," the cut receiving airplay locally, spins a yarn of "sinners who swim in fiery lakes" and share a "lazy summer kiss." This sounds like a soap opera! Is this Kimbrough’s "Norwegian Wood"? No such luck. This subject is his wife, Jessica. The topic may not be adultery, but it certainly should be pleasing to Chimayo Chamber of Commerce. "Need You Now" follows and holds the honor of being the first written song on the album. Written during what Will considered a non-productive time of his life, it is a thank-you note in music for unfailing support provided by friends and family. "Dream Away" features Kimbrough on vocal, guitar, piano and Hofner "Beatle" bass. identical twins Ned and David Henry’s smooth cello and violin inspire more dreams than all the sheep in the world. Add to this a dose of what Kimbrough labeled "a generous piling of ooohs and aaahs" from Kim Richey and Pat Sansone, and his decision to self produce pays off. "I’m on Your Side" is a thinly veiled tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s distinctive style. The instruments, vocal work and production tricks are all lifted intact from their 80’s classic albums. "Down in My Mind" was co-written with ex-Bis-quit bandmate Tommy Womack, who also presently has a solo album of his own. The next cut, "Diamond in a Garbage Can," speaks of junkies, drag queens, and teenage prostitutes with fake fur and go-go boots, all down on Conti Street. Don’t look for Mobile’s downtown merchants’ association to pick this up as a new theme song.

"Nobody Loves You" begins with the mean-spirited "Your tongue’s wagging again, telling lies about someone you don’t even know." Possibly the harshest lyrics muttered since Dylan sang "I hate myself for loving you." Is there a singular subject for this tongue-lashing? Sorry, no. Kimbrough said this is directed at a composite of souls who pissed off a songwriter. The ninth track, "We’re All for Sale," is Kimbrough’s scathing indictment of the Nashville big-boy music industry and, in spite of the subject, is rendered with a comical Beatlesque flair. The final tune, a sweet lullaby, "Goodnight Moon" was co-written with Gwil Owen. Owen was also co-author of "A Soft Place to Fall" which Allison Moore contributed to the Horse Whisperer soundtrack. The song features soothing tuba, euphonium and David Jacques’ alto horn.

Overall, a wonderful and welcome release from Mobile’s musical son. Kimbrough has spent the last six years as a sideman with various Nashville alt-rockers and honed his playing and songwriting skills. During the course of writing this review, I pulled out some of his earlier recordings, and the maturing of his talents is easily heard. This album may not attract any new converts, but it will certainly satisfy the faithful.

-- A.J. Hidell, Jr.


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