Wednesday, December 13, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1697: Bonny Doon

I had some external appointments this week, and all that extra driving gave me plenty of time to listen to the next record. Also to curse road construction in December, but the music made it all endurable.

Disc 1697 is…Let There Be Music

Artist: Bonny Doon

Year of Release: 2023

What’s up with the Cover? It’s the words and music to the title track. Well, for sure the words. The music could be anything, as – to my great shame – I cannot read music. I learned guitar via lessons and chord charts. I’ve always wished I could read music, partly because as a music lover it feels like I’m missing out on an aspect of the experience, but mostly because it looks nifty.

How I Came To Know It: I was sure that I’d read a review of this record on American Songwriter, but looking back it turns out it was on Pitchfork. It is rare that I find a folkier record on Pitchfork, but here we are. Anyway, read the review, was interested, liked the music, and ordered it through my local record store. Shop local!

How It Stacks Up: This is my only Bonny Doon album, so it can’t stack up against anything.

Rating: 3 stars

With a name like Bonny Doon you might expect this music to be firmly in the Celtic Folk world, but you may be surprised to know this is more of a folk-rock sound. It is more reminiscent of the Flying Burrito Brothers than anything Capercaillie ever gave us. Fortunately, I like both styles of music, and Bonny Doon’s upbeat, easygoing melodies were exactly what I needed through the first half of a cold pre-winter week.

Bonny Doon is like that poster on the wall of your office reminding you to breathe. Feeling stressed? Uncertain about life’s purpose? Throw on the 40 minutes of “Let There Be Music” and chill out.

The record is simple but sneaky. The melodies have that timeless quality that good folk music always has, but the progressions are more rock and roll than folk. If these tunes were fuzzed out and the electric guitar let loose, the tunes could easily be nineties rock. Instead, Bonny Doon opt for a light and airy vibe that exudes hope for a better tomorrow. This isn’t “sun will come out tomorrow” music, this is “sun will come out right now music.

Lyrically, there isn’t any Leonard Cohen level poetry, but they do a great job of converting conventional wisdom and plain language into something that feels more profound than it probably is on the page. Some of the best stuff can be found on “Crooked Creek”, expressing a gentle pastoral ease in every line:

“I heard the preacher speak at crooked creek
I heard the coyote howl from deep in my bowels
I heard the trees slow dance in the neon wild
Ain’t it crazy how I still feel like a child.”

This is just one of many hippy dippy “smoke some grass, and chill in the shade of this willow tree” kind of tunes. Others have names like “Let There Be Music” and “Fine Afternoon” and are just as chill as you’d expect songs with titles like that to be.

The biggest buzzkill these guys manage is “You Can’t Stay the Same” and even here, they are more reassuring you that the world will be OK despite changes that will come both to you, and from within you. Think Black Sabbath’s “Changes,” but minus all the anxiety.

All this happiness and relaxation might make you think this record is sleepy or boring, but it is anything but. First of all, the songs have a lively jangle that gets you swaying in time from the first few notes. Second, the record has plenty of recognition that things are tough (on “Roxanne” there are even hints of self-destructive behaviour in the mix). It just shows that there is a sunny way to confront life’s challenges, if you’re willing to embrace it.

This record is not musically innovative, nor does it push the musicianship or vocals of its band members, but what it does for the spirit can’t be underestimated. It left me feeling alert and rested, like I’d just had a thoroughly great meditation session, or maybe just a comfortable nap.

Best tracks: San Francisco, Crooked Creek, Roxanne

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