We've been privately gushing over former Verbena frontman Scott AA Bondy's solo record American Hearts (Fat Possum) for about a year now -- we doubt that he'd consider it a compliment to hear us compare it to anything as cliche as Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker or the first Velvet Underground album, but that's unironic high praise in this cube. Roots music in 2008 is all about lumberjack beards and creaky falsettos, which we love as much as the next Horse Feathers fan, but Bondy's mostly-alone-with-a-guitar phase is firmly pre-indiefolk-revival, with its insistence on rasp and clear-eyed mumble and even the occasional no-bullshit protest song. In any other year (say, even 2007, when it was released), the title track's plea for a distinction between heartfelt patriotism and blind nationalism would've sounded like just another coffeehouse pipe dream; the closer we got to November 5, though, the more we found ourselves revisiting it as an anthem for a new era. "Killed myself when I was young," he sings on a song by that name,
"with my finger on the poison gun," and by all accounts he nearly did
during the Verbena years, which most people who remember them at all
will remember for the Dave Grohl-produced album the band put out after
Bondy had apparently developed an unhealthy obsession with Kurt Cobain.
American Hearts reminded us, though, how much we loved Verbena's 1997
debut Souls for Sale, an album that squirreled away the best parts of the Stones Sticky Fingers and the Stooges Raw Power,
but also contained a fucked-up love ballad so gorgeous that they
pre-emptively titled it "The Song That Ended Your Career," presumably
to ward off the indie-cred goons of the era.
American Hearts is older and darker and maybe even wiser, verging on spooky, especially on the handclaps-as-thunderclap-as-gunshot percussion on "How Will You Meet Your End," a song with lyrics as stark and bleak as a Flannery O'Connor story and a crackling fingerpicked melody that seems to have crawled out of the same earth that Doc Boggs used to tread. Lord knows what kind of deal a man's got to strike to be able to summon up those spirits. But we're stoked to finally get a glimpse up close when Bondy takes the stage tonight at Great Scott. If you can't make it, you'll regret it -- but w'e'll have the OTD cameras there and some live footage up next week. In the meantime...
DOWNLOAD: AA Bondy,"There's A Reason" (mp3)