Bill Mallonee’s Slow Trauma

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:

Death. Cessation.
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.
A blasphemy.
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.)

Slow TraumaIn 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!”
I’m there.

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.

Bill Mallonee’s Lands & Peoples: Review and Ruminations

Bill Mallonee is a man of many albums–some 80 by the last count.

His 2015 album Lands & Peoples begins with a folksy steel-string guitar and upright bass, lifted up to the stratosphere by ambient loops in the background.

Then, before you know it, it’s all about that bass and Mr. Mallonee’s tried and true vocals:

Somewhere between a border town and outside Santa Fe
Where the moonlight casts her heavy sigh and sent me on my way
You learn to trust the compass stars woven in her hair
And you learn to read the poetry hanging in the thin air

This has to be autobiographical. How else could a songwriter produce so many meaningful lyrics, album after album after album? He finds them “hanging in the thin air”–the secret revealed.

Why, then, is Mr. Mallonee still “a drifter”? The music industry embraced him at one time, especially through the commercial success he experienced with Vigilantes of Love. (Yes, I even remember hearing them on the radio!) Mr. Mallonee, however, still has friends in earthy places:

Should you become a drifter, the Good Earth is your friend
And you learn to read her language till the bitter end

His vulnerability on the first song is what his listeners have come to expect and love about his music:

There was a Rosary on the rearview; this time it went unsaid
But, if Love gets the last word, maybe, I’ll be “ok.”

After the opening confessional, Lands & Peoples moves into the grooving “Hide Me in the Darkness,” a song where the upbeat tempo and its closing lines are a mismatch:

Just look on the bright side…just tend to your homestead
Just look on the dark side…plow’s broke and the horses are dead

But this is Bill Mallonee, gosh darnit, so the juxtaposition is surely intentional. It does not go unnoticed by the careful listener.

I think my favorite track on the album is “Steering Wheel is a Prayer Wheel,” which calls to mind everything I loved about Winnowing, his previous full-length album. And have I mentioned how much I like the drumming on this album, at its best on this fourth track? Who does it, you ask? You guessed it–Mr. Mallonee himself, the same one who sings/prays:

There’s only so much you can freight on your heart’s shaky scaffold
And the steering wheel is a prayer wheel on the open road

Mallonee-Lands and PeoplesOne of Mr. Mallonee’s enduring gifts is being able to turn on a dime from a heart-wrenching tune like “String of Days” to the gratitude-laced “Sangre de Christos.” The former is an addict’s lament, bemoaning the “losing streaks” that go “on for miles.” But he follows it with a prayer of appreciation uttered “under the blue skies.”

For Mr. Mallonee, it seems, life is all of one piece–ups and downs, joys and sorrows, laments and thanksgivings. All of it is as “poetry hanging in the thin air,” and he continues to pull it out, jot it down, and sing it like he means it–because he does. I love that about him.

I found myself having a hard time hanging in there with the second half of the album, but even so, there are more gems:

There’s a story that I’m writing
Would you help me hold the pen?
On every page you will shine just like a star
And if that deck is stacked?
We’ll just laugh and leave the table
And leave the dealer all alone there in the dark

And then “Hope the Kids Make it Out” came on, the second to last track. Ah, those interlocking guitars! The pulsing bass, the perfectly toned drums… the rock and roll. That’s one of my favorite Bill Mallonee songs in the last decade.

I still have a preference for Winnowing, perhaps in part because I randomly stumbled on it late one Friday night, not having kept abreast of Mr. Mallonee’s catalogue for some time. I stayed up and listened to the whole thing all the way through, a moment of being-ministered-to that I needed then. So perhaps it’s unfair to compare this newer full-length to that work of genius, but so it goes.

One way or the other, Lands & Peoples is pretty easily a top 10 Bill Mallonee record, through and through. (About how many artists can you say their album is one of their best 10… and it be a compliment?) That he covers so much territory–drums, vocals, guitars, bass, etc.–makes it all the richer a listen, musically and lyrically.

You can learn more about the album, read the lyrics, and listen and download here.

 


 

My sincerest thanks to the musical powers that be, who gave me the album to download for review, but with no expectation as to the content of my write-up.

A Short Review of Bill Mallonee’s “Winnowing”

This review of a Bill Mallonee record transcends the genre of music review. Beautiful, compelling, moving. A more than fitting piece for my first time pushing that little “Reblog” button that WordPress offers.

Quantum Est In Rebus Inane

…[T]he apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together… Jane Austen, Persuasion

I have been listening to Bill Mallonee for a long time. He is one of the most challenging and rewarding songwriters alive. He has crafted song after song, each representing some portion of his steady, integrated-and-integrating vision of things. That vision is complicated, prismatic; it has been salted with fire over years, burning away everything self-indulgent or unrealizable in it. What remains now is a vision that demands comparison with the visions of great religious and literary work: the Wisdom books of the Old Testament, and James of the New; the essays of Montaigne; Samuel Johnson’s “The Vanity of Human Wishes” and Rasselas; Eliot’s Four Quartets. Mallonee’s themes are best captured by phrases borrowed from Johnson: the hunger of the imagination…

View original post 997 more words