Bonnie Bishop – Free – Be Squared Records, 28:30 [10/9/2012] ****:
(Bonnie Bishop – acoustic guitar, vocals; Jimmy Wallace, piano, organ, clavinet; Steve Mackey – bass; Fred Eltringham – drums, percussion; Rob McNelley – guitars; Sam Hawksley – guitars; Dave Colella – congas; Roy Agee – horns; Leroy Powell – guitar; David Henry/Matt Slocum/Eamon McLoughlin – strings; feat. harmonies by Sarah Buxton; Jason Eskridge; Chantae Cann; Ametria Dock; Lisa Oliver Gray; and the East Nasty Choir (Dave Pahanish, Kristin Lee; Hugh Mitchell; Leroy Powell; Anthony Billups and Amy Wilcox)
Bonnie Bishop has traveled a familiar road as a singer/songwriter. Starting out on the vaunted Texas club scene, she built a critical (nomination for Vocal Performance Of The Year at the Lone Star Music Awards) and peer/fan cult status. Her honest depiction of personal stories and subsequent relocation to Nashville resulted in four albums and refined her songwriting talents, introducing her material to other musicians. She is a true Southern rocker, drawing on the diverse influences of her cultural roots.
Bishop’s latest release, Free is a concise (under 30 minutes) dose of blues/soul rock. Seven original compositions are fueled by a tight band that surrounds her in an accessible format. Setting a blistering pace, “Keep Using Me” roars out of the gate with Leon Russell piano (Jimmy Wallace) hooks. Bishop has drawn a line in the sand (…”I keep givin’ ya chances and you keep taking advantage”), and delivers a strong vocal performance that equals the musical intensity. Bishop has a soulful, raspy voice. While some will make understandable comparisons to Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt (who has recorded one of her songs, “Not ‘Cause I Wanted To”) or even Bonnie Bramlett, she exudes a confident authenticity. Her voice is emotive and full of bluesy edge. A thick, layered cadre of backup singers constitutes a fuller sound. Her self-empowerment continues on the funky Southern rocker, “Shrinkin’ Violet”. She puts potential suitors on notice (…”Now don’t you be afraid boy, just take her by the hand”).
Drawing from personal experiences, her songwriting shines a light on the redemptive spirit. The title cut explores the buoyancy that an individual must find inside themselves. This song showcases Bishop’s acuity for pop arrangement. With string backing, her capacity to be expressive in a structured format is revealed. The influence of gospel in regional music has always been prevalent. “World Like This” glows with hymnal eloquence. The opening piano and potent vocals morph into rhythmic sway. Again, the multi-layered chorus is uplifting.
A lot of composers appear to find their muse by digging into the angst of romantic dysfunction. With “Best Songs Come From Broken Hearts”, Bishop rallies this narrative. There is also a freewheeling element present. “Bad Seed” is a sprightly country number that details the unlikely journey of a pot-smoking politician’s daughter who eschews the respectable life for a musical career. Bishop’s gutsy singing and Wallace’s honky-tonk piano runs are great. The final upbeat rocker, “Right Where You Are” brings this set (it feels like a live performance) to a lively conclusion.
Like many of her inspirational role models, it is time for Bonnie Bishop to bask in the spotlight.
TrackList: Keep Using Me; Shrinkin’ Violet; Free; Bad Seed; World Like This; Best Songs Come From Broken Hearts; Right Where You Are
Rhino Entertainment Group releases a triple vinyl of Little Feat’s definitive album.