The 1:06 opening track, “One & the Same,” serves as a Prelude to Bill Mallonee’s most recent album–Slow Trauma–asking:
What you hold onto and what you let go of
and what you should give away
What’s gonna save you and what makes you smile?
Sometimes, they are one and the same
Then the full band kicks in with a sweet folksy rock groove in “Only Time Will Tell.” (“Where it’s all going? Only time will tell.”) And by full band, I mean: Bill Mallonee on vocals, guitars, bass, and drums. This is something like his 74th album (!), and I only learned an album or two ago that drums are his first instrument.
Before I say any more about this top-notch record, here’s Mr. Mallonee from an essay he wrote that serves as liner notes:
A component of my interior world.
I feel like I’ve been staring it down in one form or another all of my life.
I’ve been “institutional material” once or twice.
It has certainly shaped my melancholy temperament and driven my art in noticeable ways.
I know some movements across the spectrum of human history have glorified it, romanticized it, even reveled in it…
Death. What’s to revel in?
Me? I don’t see it that way. At all.
I think it’s more like an aberration.
God, damn it. (That’s a prayer. Not an expletive.)
The third track, “Waiting for the Stone to be Rolled Away” has a great groove, too. It’s a resurrection song, written “from the parking lot of the Holy Spirit Assembly.” Mr. Mallonee takes the listener “down these sad, back streets of doubt to a new and brighter day / waiting for the stone to be rolled away.” (He does it with a killer harmony part, too.)
In this third track begins a trend that Mr. Mallonee thankfully repeats throughout the album: just when you get fully into the groove and expect the song to end, he goes another minute with some instrumental rocking out. I love this album for that. He takes his time with the songs. He comes to say what he needs to say, then lets the music do the rest of the talking, helping the listener mull it all over.
Even the album’s less remarkable songs (there are only two I would even begin to consider fast-forwarding on Listen #47) are only so because the others are so good.
“WPA/When I Get to Where They’re Taking Us,” the fifth track, has a really punchy lead guitar line that will stay with you for days. Mr. Mallonee is as gifted a guitarist as he is a songwriter.
Track six, “Ironclad,” is another highlight, closing with a melodic guitar riff you wouldn’t think possible on someone’s 70th (give or take a few) album! (How does he still do it? No idea, but I’m glad he does.)
The closing number, “That Last Hill,” is my favorite song on the album and one of his more poignant tracks in his massive catalogue:
will my highbeams flood the plain?
will the gatekeeper know my name
will there be someone to claim me for his own?
Even though that song is nearly five minutes, I could have listened to it for ten more. Throughout the album Mr. Mallonee offers beauty and a sure hand to help the listener think through difficult themes of death, life, loss, living, and giving.
The last words belong to the liner note essay:
“He Is Risen,” goes the Easter liturgy.
And you & I, the stumbling, wayward congregation of the spiritually poor, blind, sin-sick and lame respond:
“He Is Risen, Indeed!”
After hearing this record the listener will want to heed Mr. Mallonee’s call:
Do your part, in your corner and among your friends, to kick at the darkness and at death itself.
Slow Trauma is available here.
Thanks to Bill Mallonee for the opportunity to review this excellent record. It got me through my last handful of hour-long commutes to seminary last spring! He’s got a new record already in the works, which you can see here.