Bill Mallonee knows all the words, and he’s not afraid to use them. After 10 years of slogging it out on road throughout the 90’s, as the singer/songwriter that came to define Athens, GA alternative rock band, Vigilantes of Love through a series of impressive studio albums on numerous labels, Mallonee pushed on as a solo artist, delivering no less than 70 indie albums in the last twenty years. Rivaling Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard for the title of “most prolific indie rocker on planet Earth,” Mallonee has built a devoted if modestly sized following who will vouch for the high quality of his songwriting; a rare example of quantity not diminishing quality. In 2020, Mallonee released the double album, Lead On, Kindly Light/This World & One More, which included 23 songs, with the singer/songwriter playing all the instruments – drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars plus lap steel – with his wife Muriah Rose adding the rare keyboard and singing harmony background vocals. So to offer yet another full-length 11 song album in just over a year, well, it’s not uncommon for Mallonee, but it’s an awfully quick turnaround by any other standard.
About a decade or so, Mallonee relocated to New Mexico, where his observational songwriting has focused on the struggle to get by and possibly thrive in what America has come, in an era he’s described as “the New Dark Age.” In “Ameri-Cacophony,” on this new one where he’s channeling Neil Young a bit, a major influence, while holding out for a sound that rings true amid all the noise and chaos produced by a culture in crisis. There’s an underlying longing at the heart of much of Mallonee’s work, a prayer for connection, a voice of solidarity with working folk, a hope for a home at the end of the day where we can all gather for a bit of rest and nourishment. He wants us to stay on “Speakin’ Terms,” and in life’s lean and mean times he’s willing to settle for spiritual connection that provides “The Best Seat In Town (You & Me Staring Down the Gloom).”
On bandcamp, Mallonee describes these 11 recordings as full band demos that turned out good enough to warrant immediate release. Of course, he’s playing all the instruments in this “band,” but if that diminishes the energy and improvisational thump of playing alongside a drummer, Mallonee compensates by bringing a smart compositional quality to his various guitars and occasional harmonica. By this point in his 30-year career, Mallonee’s a known quantity; we know him to be a smart, literate songwriter who tends to wear all his emotions on his sleeve where like-minded folk can be assured of a travelling companion, where the journey is as important as the hoped-for destination.
Key Tracks: “Speakin’ Terms” / “Baby, I Was Lucky (To Get Out of There Alive)” / “Ameri-Cacophony”
Artists With Similar Fire: John Prine / Neil Young / Buddy Miller
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb