Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Born and bred in the parochial heartlands of Suffolk and then polished by the coastal gentility of Brighton Institute Alan Bonner does not exactly scream Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll at you - more a case of Next and rugs and chocolate roll. With his pre-Raphaelite tresses and slightly androgynous looks he is visually anachronistic, as though beamed up from the mid-seventies complete with the comparative innocence and sensitivities of an era that is already becoming lost in the mists of time.

Slightly glam, slightly hippie, it’s as though he was cryogenically preserved, just in case Vietnam became the overture to a holocaust. Armageddon never quite made it but Alan did and he espouses sentiments and thoughts that are not the natural oeuvre of a world besotted with iphones and ipads, and yet because they are delivered with idiosyncratic sincerity they charm and delight.

Alan Bonner has reached maturity with his current album but he is an anomaly, having been conceived by influences handed down from a traditional singer-songwriter lineage. His heritage is that of folk and balladeers and buskers. Indeed, the new outing is actually called ‘Balladeer’ - a beguiling seduction of words and music which delineate and define him – the minstrel for an era of coalition and recession, the piano player with the lyrical heart and poetic soul.

His voice has already been recognised to have flavours and textures from Bowie to James Taylor to Rufus Wainright but it also has a distinctive quality of its own. An occasional vibrato adds emotional fragility to his compositions and a little street dialect in his diction adds a contemporary facet that wouldn’t be evident in the work of his musical antecedents.

This is the type of music that will endure long after other fads and fashions have passed on by. When the power lines are down the likes of Alan Bonner will still be able to sit at a piano and pick up a guitar and mesmerise audiences with ability and creativity, without whistles and bells, without smoke and mirrors, but with just ability and emotion. There is a time and a place for everything and a season for all things. The self-assured songs on this album will find a bridge that crosses over from Spring to Winter and they will sit snugly in most collections. The album is timeless, not only in the accepted sense, but in the way the clock stops when you listen to it and the world pauses to breath and bask in its warmth.

He is an impressionist using his voice and finger-work to paint with delicate brush-strokes that add sufficient colour and contrast to form strong images in the mind. Some are light sketches, like the track ‘Little M’ - pretty and tinkling and with all the sweet ingredients of a lullaby but without tasting of saccharine. Other pieces are richer evocations, like the very personal love song ‘Talia’ which is an open window on his own relationship.

It is a collection nourished by influences although perhaps not so much influence as a distillation of the collective craft bequeathed by generations of forbears. Judicious use of instrumentation such as ukulele and cello add a flourish and burnish which offer perfect ornamentation without drowning the effect in over-production. Indeed the whole work is modest and understated and yet Alan is mustering a catalogue that would entitle him to be much less reserved than he is. Indeed the parting song on the album is called ‘Better man’ and has the air of a shanty with its decorative use of an accordion. What better way to describe the man himself – better than so many of his contemporaries and awaiting the acclaim that on the evidence of 'balladeer' should imminently arrive.

Review by Peter Heydon

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