When an artist starts their career with a big radio hit, they either submit to the pressure of repetition for an attempt at repeat success or they forge ahead with ambition and imagination to create fresh, new material. Tracy Bonham may have burst on to the scene in 1996 with the angsty “Mother, Mother,” but with her most recent release, Masts of Manhatta, she’s ready to once again prove there is more to her than meets the radio. As a classically trained violinist and pianist, Tracy’s musical repertoire is as extensive as it is diverse. In the liner notes, along side the traditional violin, piano, guitar, claves and Fender Rhodes, she’s even credited with playing a spaghetti pot and a cardboard box. She definitely casts a wide creative net; musically, thematically and lyrically. For Mast of Manhatta, she is joined in this endeavor by legendary guitarist Smokey Hormel, as well as Tim Lunztel on bass and the incredible Andrew Borger on drums.
After listening all the way through Masts of Manhatta, you understand that Tracy is not one to be boxed in. She can do the unconventional indie vibe of “Devil’s Got Your Boyfriend” and “You’re My Is-Ness.” She can write folksy blues numbers like “Your Night Is Wide Open” and “I Love You Today.” She can comfortably slide into old country music for “We Moved Our City to the Country,” “In the Moonlight” and “Angel, Won’t You Come Down.” She even does a really good Tom Waits impersonation, both musically and vocally, on “Josephine.” Her relaxed writing style leads to great lines like “I’d like to be my own best friend, turns out there’s no reciprocal feelings, what a total snob” and “If Meals on Wheels is ever late I promise I won’t call off the date.” There’s even some interesting lyrical references to Gogol Bordello, Jackson Pollock, Johnny and June, Bartles and Jaymes and the AMC Hornet. Yet, even with all of this diversity, there are enough unifying threads running throughout the album to keep it from feeling sprawling or distracting. Tracy’s unique voice, virtuoso violin playing and unrestrained spirit make this album feel totally adventurous and undeniably “hers.”
Masts of Manhatta will be available from Engine Room Recordings on July 13th.