Sunday, July 24, 2016

Slow Trauma by Bill Mallonee (A Review)

"Death usually comes dressed up in her finery and lace" -Bill Mallonee

                                                                                      --Written July 9, 2016
I awoke early this morning to a brilliant Arizona sunrise. As we lumbered on aboard the Sunset Limited, we trekked across New Mexico, across the Rio Grande, and into Texas.  As I am writing this, we’re somewhere in the middle of the big state, rocking and humming along the familiar path of ties and steel. There’s no better time to take a few minutes to review Slow Trauma, the latest by Bill Mallonee.

Bill’s last series of records has been solid; he’s found a home in New Mexico, and his songs have reflected the new season. DolorosaWinnowing, and Lands and Peoples all wrapped themselves in the desert whispers. Slow Trauma continues with the same musical feel for the most part, but it wades off into deeper lyrical waters.

Slow Trauma has to be near the top of Bill’s solo recordings. Let me briefly explain why I think so.
The albums starts with a whimper. He limps in with “One and the Same.” At a mere minute and seven seconds, this track left me scratching my head. What’s going on here? Bill’s last several projects have produced more six and seven minute songs than I can count. This was short and vulnerable. Before I could draw any conclusions, “Only Time Will Tell” kicks off, and I’m instantly tapping my foot along with it. This track, especially, could have been a part of the Audible Sigh sessions, possibly the Room Despair EP. It’s a great train song… it’s been in my head all along this route from Los Angeles. Next, “Waiting for the Stone (to be rolled away)” is full of beautiful imagery, figurative language, and a pervading confidence in the presence of doubt. "Hour Glass" captures the old, American western to a T. Mallonee sings, "Maybe one day every flag is gonna have to fly at half mast / Only so many grains of sand... in the hour glass." 

Ok. I’ll stop myself. I could go on this way about every single track, so I won’t. But here’s the thing: it’s not that it’s a collection of ten well-crafted songs; it’s more than that. There is no lull. There are no detours. Mallonee guides us through a trail of doubts and questions dressed in the jangle of a lap-steel guitar along with a simple, but well-orchestrated platform of alt-country Americana. He sprinkles his trademark phrases throughout. For instance, “Who knows if our heavy hearts could ever bear the load?” and “Lady Luck? She grabbed her keys and headed out the back,” much like Room Despair's "Goin' South." He also presents an honest confession of his doubts and struggles, which is the best any of us can do as we navigate this thing called life. Bill pleads,” Lord, gather me unto Thyself when my wayward heart grows still…I just wanna see over that last hill.”

Is Slow Trauma about death? Yes, it is. Is it depressing? Quite the contrary. Mallonee’s transparency creates a space for the listener to ask bigger questions…to seek answers to those unknown questions we face. And at the end of the ride, we may still have unanswered questions, but the process of self-examination proves valuable to the soul. Lord knows we all need more substantial art like this these days. Don’t miss out on this gem. 

Be sure to give the tracks a listen on Bandcamp. If you like what you hear, you'll also want to check out Bill's new Kickstarter for the next record.