Alan Bonner – Balladeer (Self Release)

Modern day bard Alan Bonner combines personal tales and stories of life with oodles of piano and the infrequent ukulele deviations on his new record, Balladeer. It's the follow-up to his 2008 debut, Songs For The Heart Shaped, and is considerably scaled back – the second effort is frequently skeletal, stripped of all excess fat, allowing for the tales he weaves to unfold with minimal fuss or distractions. He delves into lusher territory at times, and occasionally alters his instrument of choice – sometimes guitar, sometimes accordion – but more often than not, the album is one-man-and-his-piano. Which, far from being dull, allows for Bonner to really get to grips with certain topics in his lyrics: there are odes to friendship, protest songs and ditties of lost love. This is a record with a focus on words; it's more about what he says than how he says them.

Released Mar 4th, 2013 via self-release / By Larry Day
Alan Bonner – Balladeer (Self Release) 'Look At Me' is a self-conscious exploration into the faded persona behind the façades of ultra-ego: “Sometimes I like to dance close to the edge/Sometimes I have too much to drink and I fall over it.” There are nods towards alcoholism and the fraying nerves of our entertainment icons – it adds humanity to celebrity, using only keys and vocals dripping with spite and regret. 'Talia' is a Bowie-esque ballad for best friends (that's not a particularly subtle fact): “Talia you're the best friend that no one like me could wish for.” It's a graceful song of thanks to a friend for rolling his cigarettes and plying him with red wine – there are nods to booze, drugs and vices are littered throughout the record, giving an impression that this is not just a record of stories, but also one of confession.

The zenith of the LP however, is undoubtedly 'Rainbow Man'. It's a vitriolic burst of power, a passionate remembrance for Matthew Shepard, the 21 year old Wyoming University student whose murder spurred on opposition to intolerance and hate crimes. The track is a heartbreaking epitaph for Shepard, drenched in tear-brink emotion and, somehow, joy. It's also a celebration of not only Shepard's life, but also all the positives that have come from the tragedy: “Ten years passed/ the world has changed/ learnt to tolerate.” It's almost a folk anthem – full of heroes and trauma, if it were used for any political reason, it could be a poignant game-changer. As it is, it's a beautifully constructed song, full of rage, sadness and hope.

Balladeer is a wholly appropriate title for both the album and Bonner himself – this is an LP full of ballads, woven by a masterful songwriter. The music itself tends to play second fiddle to Bonner's impeccable voice – it brinks on Bowie, Bombadil and Wainwright – and the lyrics, which is absolutely fine, but it does tend to require your focused attention. This isn't background music, that's for sure. Each snippet on the record is a wonderfully sculpted snapshot of Bonner's life. It's not only a folk-tinged collection of narratives, it's also a means for Bonner to exorcise his innermost feelings, completely unabashed. It's revealing. Despite just being (mostly) one-man-and-his-piano, Balladeer is stuffed with dense layers and sonic texture. It's achingly sweet, painfully honest and furious.