Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Haley Bonar walked into the studio back in that fall when we first me, wearing galoshes, or a pair of something in that same family. They were big, looked extremely warm, comfortable and woodsy. On the cover of the Minnesotan's newest at the time, Big Star, the orange-haired beauty is getting her close-up, with a furrowed grimace (that might be depicting a wry sense of boredom or dumfounding sour luck) and a furry hooded winter parka pulled over her resting hair.
She's pulled off the look of a woman who has to endure the elements and knows the precautions that should be taken to not freeze ears or toes off in the cruelest northern winter. She could survive blizzard conditions if the task were put to her and she would likely even be willing to soldier through one if she needed to get home at night, to her own bed. It's almost as if she might be loyal to those adversities that her current state and the one where she grew up - South Dakota - dole out when the season slides into the shortened days of whipping winds and flurries coming of their ears. There is much pride taken by anyone who lives somewhere that's not always prime for vacationing.
From her dress and her songs, one can infer that she refuses to be taken weakly. She has a resilient country and western quality to her voice that makes her sound as if she's got her own destination under control - or at least her protagonists do. There is a heavy twinge of self-confidence to all on her new album - a reliable collection of observations and real lifelike stories of those needing truths and confirmations - as well as a sensibility of innocence, where there are mistakes to be had. It's mostly her demure and charming lilt that brings this across, but it's not necessarily submissive, not flat out on its back waiting for a hand up.
Bonar, who has contributed to Andrew Bird recordings, knows the tendencies of some of her peers and maybe herself sometimes are to find a tree of a man and cling on, to serve dinner and raise the babies (as she details in the title track for the album) and then go along for the unfulfilling ride of a lifetime. She writes about these tendencies of those people chasing certain things, such as fame and fortune, and others on the other side of the dirty truth, who remain suspended from the ability to make anything better show itself. The life that she gives to the people and the music on this album is the same helpless life that a farmer or a gardener gives to the tilled soil when they toss a seed into it. The best intentions are always there and they're tended to with diligence. The weeds are sprayed or pulled and all of the recommended fertilizer is applied to make whatever is going to grow prosperous and plump. But there's no accounting for droughts or rainstorms. There's no accounting for root worms and vermin dashing the growing power of a fruit or vegetable newborn. Bonar, in her soft and appreciative way, respects these adversities in the people whom she encounters and then uses as footnotes to later write about. She respects the adversities in her own turbulent thoughts, bent to fury when everything's bad or wrong for a person, an insinuation that she has no time for. She just croons out like a morning glory or a buttercup and throws the furry hood over her orange hair and put her weather-resistant boots on and lets it splash and howl around her.
*Essay originally published February, 2009