Saturday, May 14, 2022

Bonham-Bullick - Bonham-Bullick

So it’s a covers album, innit?
Well yeah, that’s true.  This outing by singer Deborah Bonham (sister of you-know-who) and guitarist Pete Bullick (who did the strumming for Paul Rodgers on his Free Spirit tour and album), does consist of 13 cover versions, of varying vintages.  What it isn’t, though, is a collection of everyday favourites drawn from the Great Blues-Rock Songbook, given the same old, same old treatment.  No, this is something with a much more distinctive flavour than its prosaic title would suggest.
Okay, so there's the familiar Albert King toon, ‘Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me’, delivered in funky blues fashion, on which all and sundry swing with abandon around Richard Newman’s perfectly behind-the-beat drums, while Bonham's soulful vocal makes it clear that
Sepia-toned imagination from Pete Bullick and Deborah Bonham
she knows this kinda stuff inside out.  But the rest of the album finds them exploring, mostly, more adventurous territory.
One of the highlights of the album, for example, is ‘Bleeding Muddy Water’, a song by the late Mark Lanegan, who is not someone I’ve ever really followed.  And it’s a lurking, mysterious thing, with distant echoes of ‘No Quarter’ in its dappling keyboard theme, but otherwise a low-down sound all of its own, with Bonham asserting that “You’re the bullet, I’m the gun”, and Bullick delivering a searing solo that’s positively Kossoffian in its use of sustain, before an outro that combines that recurring keyboard motif with moaning, overdubbed vocals and more haunting guitar.
This vibe is very much in keeping with both the opening ‘See You Again’ and the closing ‘The Changeling’.  ‘See You Again’ opens with spooky guitar and pattering percussion, while Bonham demonstrates that Sari Schorr is by no means the only female around these days who can deliver a brooding vocal.  It’s seven minutes’ worth, but builds in intensity with some soaring and swooping guitar from Bullick, and speckles of programmed synth.  ‘The Changeling’ comes over like late period Robert Plant going a bit Americana, atmospherically minimalist in form with halting drums and bass from Marco Giovino and Ian Rowley, ghostly pedal steel from BJ Cole, and a slow, intense Bullick solo.  There’s more in a similar vein along the way, with the likes of the restrained and reflective ‘Trouble Blues’, which showcases Bonham’s voice very nicely indeed, and the ominous ‘When The World Comes To An End’.  And there’s a similar intensity to the Hayes and Porter composition ‘I Had A Dream’, but in a more straightforward blues ballad form, which may not be as overwrought as Zep’s ‘Since I Been Loving You’, but carries more heft than Johnnie Taylor’s original soul reading, good as that is.
Other highlights include the suppressed soul of OV Wright’s ‘I Don’t Know Why’, on which Paul Brown (aka Brother Paul of The Waterboys) revs up his Hammond organ to provide another gear, though it still feels like it could do with another dimension.  Stephen Stills’ ‘Sit Yourself Down’ offers up some quality pop-rock, with urgency provided by the clattering drums, thrumming bass and helter-skelter guitar, ahead of a false ending and a coda driven by more Hammond from Brown.  Meanwhile shimmers of piano introduce the slow ballad ‘Why It Don’t Come Easy’, and the piano continues to be to the fore as it develops into a big, dramatic affair, counterpointing crashing waves of drums with chocolate box piano and sounding like a downbeat Elles Bailey moment – or perhaps more likely, Bailey’s forerunner Elkie Brooks.
When you get down to it, 14 tracks (including the radio edit of ‘See You Again’) and 65 minutes is too much, with a couple of lesser tracks applying the brakes along the way.  All the same, Deborah Bonham and Pete Bullick have assembled an enjoyably different and eclectic collection here. So yeah, Bonham-Bullick is a covers album Jim, but not as we normally know it, and credit is due for its vision and imagination.  
Bonham-Bullick is out now on Quarto Valley Records.

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