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CD Review: Ken Bonfield – American Baroque: Steel String Surprise

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ba•roque(adj.)- use of complex forms, bold ornamentation, and the juxtaposition of contrasting elements often conveying a sense of drama, movement, and tension.

I do not like to use the whole definition because I don’t feel that the baroque period ended in the 17th century nor do I feel that Ken Bonfield’s music is characterized by grotesqueness in any sense of the word. Hell, I could cut that definition down even more when I try to explain Ken’s style because it’s not all drama, movement and tension. Actually, uplifting and soulful would be two great words to add. But I do feel that the title American Baroque: Steel String Suprise not only provides an insight to this genre but also the work that is presented on this CD, an offering of songs and versions of pre-released songs that might have not seen the light of day if he decided to dock his “Ship” at port for good.

With the presentation of a record deal from Loud Dust Recordings at the right time in the retrospect of his accomplishments, we have a CD that is full of tunes that represent a span of seven years, tunes that will not only move you but show his ability to stay “organic” in this modern world. This CD, which will be released later this summer, has 17 tracks, 4 solo pieces- close to an hour of music, and includes a new solo rendtion of "Steel String Surprise" that was recorded at Thomas Eaton's studio in Newburyport, MA. The album also features live, in-studio recordings with Joe Ebel, Michael Manring, and Ty Burhoe.

The CD opens with “Renaissance," which is a perfect example of Ken’s signature style, sound and his God-given talent. It’s a great introduction and prepares the listener for a beautiful journey into the real Americana that isn’t defined by fashion or trends. Before you know it, you reach track eight aptly titled “Floating” and rightly so because it is definitely an audio translation of such an event. With such an entrancing string section and Michael Manring on bass, it is almost upsetting that this song is only 3 minutes long (more like 2:33) but fortunately for you listeners, the next track is one of my all-time favorites and is a stunning piece of work. Actually, I prefer the version from his album Homecoming but this version is amazing and is way more involved. I’m surprised no one has asked to use it in a movie.

Anyways, speaking of movies there are two tracks on this CD which will catch you off guard. “Angela’s Ashes” which is influenced from the novel but was a great movie and “Centerline” which is inspired by a scene from Pulp Fiction. Yup, Pulp Fiction and again, my favorite version of this song was released on Homecoming. “Angela’s Ashes” is a soft tune that reflects struggle and is, truly, the first depressing song I have heard from Mr. Bonfield but it is refreshing and shows the depth and progress that he has made as an artist of the guitar. “Centerline” is a wonderful track full of invigorating movements that creates the foundation for some beautiful duets and some really nice solos. Honestly, I think this song far exceeds in brilliance than any content from the movie Pulp Fiction but that’s my opinion and I like Pulp Fiction. So, No offense, Mr. Tarantino…ok?

It’s always with CDs like these that they are over before you had time to listen. So, the album ends with track seventeen, “Dancing with Shadows” which is a brilliant emotional closing to this journey. This song exudes such grace and brings about wonderment. The music makes you think about life, love and hope. It encompasses passion, touches the soul and rejuvenates the heart and mind.

It’s hard for me to do any justice to the brilliant musicianship and in-depth songwriting by using mere words. But I will say this: these songs are a compilation of “lost” tracks, to me they are a well-rounded overview of Ken Bonfield’s career up to this point. Let us hope, with the penning of that new deal with Loud Dust Recordings, we will be graced with some new works soon.

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