Nov 162009

A. A. Bondy, When the Devil’s Loose

Albums, Reviews Comments Off on A. A. Bondy, When the Devil’s Loose

Artist: A. A. Bondy

Album: When the Devil’s Loose

Label: Fat Possum

Release Date: Tuesday, 2009.9.1

Score: 10/10

I’ve often ranted on this blog about the importance of the sophomore album.  While debut albums are, undoubtedly, critical, the second release from an artist serves as a predictor of possible staying power and is a better indication of an artist’s potential than any other album.  A lot of bands have great debuts.  Very few have great follow ups.  Those than have a good second release usually have a bright musical career ahead of them.

My fetishism for second albums, then, means that I’m often nervous to hear those produced by artists whose debuts I fell in love with.  In the case of A. A. Bondy, I really needn’t have worried, though.  Bondy’s sophomore effort, When the Devil’s Loose is a beautiful, well-crafted folk album, which does a great job of showcasing Bondy’s deft compositional talent and evocative lyrics.  From start to finish, it is cohesive, well-written, and masterfully performed.

The album’s thematic elements are established well by the opening track, “The Mightiest of Guns”.  This is true both of the songs complex, guitar-centered musical qualities, as well as its lyrical focus on chance and the inescapable nature of fate.  These lyrical images, especially those of fate, occur throughout the album, deftly woven into many of the songs, without ever feeling forced.

As with his last album, Bondy’s guitar work forms the musical backbone of the album.  And while When the Devil’s Loose features a more lush, layered sound than his first album, the guitar-centered aesthetic is still very much there.  This is probably best heard on the stripped-down, solemn tune “Oh the Vampyre”.  The solo, finger-picked guitar provides a bitter-sweet melody to support Bondy’s sad, self-effacing lyrics.

The somber solo guitar work of “Oh the Vampyre” is, however, the exception rather than the rule.  Probably the major musical innovation that Bondy displays on When the Devil’s Loose is his embracing of a full four-piece backing band.  This lends some much-needed depth to songs like the rambling, swaying “I Can See the Pines Are Dancing”, which benefits greatly from the musical layers that a full band provides.

The album closes on “The Coal Hits the Fire”, which is the slowest, most somber song on the disc.  While I wasn’t initially a fan of the track, it’s definitely grown on me.  Its slow, melancholy plod seems a strange choice to end the album, but after a few listens through, it does make a strange sort of musical sense.  Its evocative descriptions of departure and its lackadaisical pacing make a nice, fitting closer.

When the Devil’s Loose is a fantastic album that, along with its predecessor American Hearts, establish A. A. Bondy as one of the most promising voices of contemporary American folk music.  I highly recommend it, with no reservations whatsoever.  It’s a must-have for anyone who likes modern folk music, and definitely an album that everyone should consider adding to their collection.