9.12.2010

FYM ON THE LIST: TRACY BONHAM


What does freedom mean? Often times the word refers to the idea of liberty, free will, or economical deliverance. But what about the idea of artistic freedom? Tracy Bohnam's latest refreshingly sterling, musical liberation Masts of Manhatta, is prime example of what can happen when art goes uncompromised.

Just kicking off this leg of her tour, Tracy Bonham played Seattle's Sunset Thursday evening to an intimate crowd surrounded by friends, family, and all around dedicated fanfare. From the start Bonham was not afraid to showcase her luscious new genus off Masts opening with 'We Moved Our City To The Country.'



During the instrumental break, about three-quarters of the way through 'City-Country,' we started to understand what brilliance it is to hear Masts of Manhatta live. The energy of this track during the instrumental break, sonically speaks beyond words. (not since A New Career in a New Town -David Bowie, has FYM heard such instrumental description of feeling, that can't be put into words).

Bohman continued the theme of visibly translating all of Masts into musical romance throughout the night. Devil's Got Your Boyfriend (one of Bonham's personal favorites to play live) displayed her multi-instrumental prowess, as her astounding violin romp provided warmth and luscious texture to the evening.

Speaking of the sonic opulence found on Masts of Manhatta... While chatting with Bonham after the show, she attributed guitar wizard Smokey Hormel (Cash, Beck, Waits and Strummer fame) and multi-talented recording engineer Ken Rich kindly assisting her in capturing Masts colorfully cozy din.



Masts of Manhatta is a direct reflection of how things work in the music industry today. Great art going unseen, but beautifully floating free. I wonder what it would take to get a great pop tune like Big Red Heart on major radio-waves? But then again we are in the digital age now, with auto-tune, beat filled tracks ruling the radio. Luckily there can be pleasant surprises like Bonham still to appreciate.

Towards the end of her set her backing band (comprised of Brooklyn's amazing Kaiser Cartel) left stage, while Tracy Bonham covered a hauntingly soul-crushing perfect version (violin loop chanting solo ambience) of  Lead Belly tune -In The Pines. One can only hope this was a kind nod toward the greatest son of Seattle (Kurt Cobain) who recorded the most notable version of the song during Nirvana's Unplugged session.

Other tunes that translated well live included, Angel Won't You Come Down featuring one of the best lines of wisdom we have ever heard "If love is the answer, what is the question?" Mother Mother of course was a huge hit with the crowd (as it's her most notable tune).

But Masts of Manhatta, as a whole, ruled our night. The album, juxtaposes two different worlds, lifestyles, values - as she balances her time between Brooklyn and Woodstock New York. We asked Bonham if she ever runs into another Woodstock local, Levon Helm. And surprisingly she said Yes, also commenting she had attended his legendary Midnight Rambles (epic jam sessions in his barn, shared with intimate audiences) several times.



Bonham now on indie label Engine Room Recordings, finally has the freedom to tour as much or as little as she wants. Her best interests are now controlled on her own terms, and this year she has given us a rare album that delivers the feeling that anything is possible, when an artist goes uncompromised. Thank you Tracy for the wonderful evening.



(Also special thanks to Kaiser Cartel for opening up the night, and breaking the ice with the - at first shy - Seattle audience)

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