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Music Review: David Dondero – Simple Love

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Simple Love is David Dondero’s follow-up to his 2005 release South of the South on Team Love Records. The title alludes to the unobtainable aspect of seeking and finding simple love. Love is anything but simple, and that dichotomy sets up the disappointment and heartache for those who seek it.

The live quality of this collection of songs lends to the authenticity of the storytelling. The awesome folksy cover art suits the style of this low fi folk/country/blues and sometimes rocking recording. The sessions were recorded on tape with minimal overdubs featuring David Dondero on guitar and vocals, Craig D. on drums, and an assortment of talented musicians exchanging instrument rotation on all ten tracks. One particular standout is jazz pianist Eddy Hovizal. His chops add distinction next to the natural quality of the other instruments.

Dondero is a masterful songwriter and bona fide storyteller. NPR’s Robin Hilton called him one of America’s best living songwriters, an assessment with which I agree. Dondero’s songs compel me to cry, smile, laugh, and snicker, concurrently. I often feel like he’s one of my family members as I affectionately appreciate the self-deprecating and sarcastic nuance of his humor and tender sweet nature of his being. I find myself chuckling while listening to the final track “Double Murder Ballad Suicide.” The guitar, conga and jazz piano play and interact with Dondero’s eight minute crazy sing/talk story involving a group of friends, a detective, and tourists on the Golden Gate Bridge. Ending with a quick trickster suicide jump off the bridge. Why am I laughing?

Throughout the recording are lonesome bluegrass sounds, twangy guitar leads, drifting pedal steel guitar, and bluesy piano rifts. The sounds replicate the rinky-dink jukebox acoustics in saloons, from the underbelly of small towns and forgotten cities. There in the bar dives among the drifters he’s been ditched, dumped, kicked around, and hurt. He pens his misery as he travels from Alaska to San Francisco and to Oakland. His broken heart receives solace recalling the inspirational Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas and gains strength when he yearns for the Mighty Mississippi. He is a forlorn martyr that longs to find the idyllic and unrealistic “simple love.” He seeks eternal love while living life as a hot plains drifter, and road rambler. The lonely path is the one he follows.

I’m so tired/he says in the opening track of “The Prince William Sound.” In Alaska, he’s had enough of the rugged edges of the world, where the male female ratio is so off balance that  bar fights are sometimes the only solution for a jilted lover. He wants to possess the body of his girlfriend's new boyfriend so that she will make love to him. The rocking chorus picks up the pace/but I love you more/than anyone could know/do not know anyone at all.

Dondero describes San Francisco, as the coldest city on earth in the song “When the Heart Breaks So Deep.” Leaving Alaska didn’t change his luck. The steady beat of the drum and electric guitar leads as Dondero masterfully describes the many ways he’s been broken, beat and played out like a fool: "Your eggs are runny/because somebody broke out all the yolk/or/deep butterflies are bleeding in your guts/."

The Rothko Chapel is a non-denominational sanctuary and the backdrop for Dondero to praise the virtues of authentic religious inspiration. He anoints a revered musician and sees the light and power in the church of Saint John Coltrane. He intertwines love with religious philosophy.  "My religion is nature, art and literacy/my religion is science music and poetry /…and my religion is in your eyes / but my church ain’t organized/." Dondero highlights his genuine inspiration with a quote by Charlie Parker “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn, chances are you won’t be reborn.”

Featuring Piano and soft pedal steel guitar “Simple Love” is a sad and moving song that reaches emotional heights when Dondero’s wavering vocals are complimented by female vocalist Renee Woodward as they sing "I was born for the simple love/I was worn like a boxing glove/I was torn from the human skies above/." Together their voices have an old fashioned quality found in early country male-female duos. My favorite line is his questioning his exes intentions: "How could you say you love him/ you don’t even like his music/." This is the ultimate betrayal of a musician.

He revisits the concept of eternal love in Oakland (the city of pain) in the song “Stuck on the Moon”. He sings "I want to contradict the past / want our love affair to last/Ending with the ultimate commitment/you give me thoughts of a baby/." But for him it’s just a concept.

“Mighty Mississippi” is a roaring rock mix with bluesy piano and thunderous drums that glorify his passion for the phenomenal majesty of the landscape. His declaration of love is extreme as he shouts "I’m going down/I like the hu/mi/di/ty!!"

There are three topical tracks on the recording. One is “Lone Rose” a fond tribute to a women who is altruistic and kind to vagrants and whose death is questionable. He wrestles with the circumstances surrounding her death. Another is the song “You Don’t Love Anyone,” that describes a superficial woman plumped up with silicone and collagen who is self involved and interested in money. "You’re so beautiful/you’re so beautifully dull/. Finally he is lucky, this shallow beauty is not interested in him, cause he don’t got any money. Thrown into the mix is a traditional folk song, like a children’s verse of folklore past, but only Dondero would start a song with I saw a one-legged man walk a three-legged dog.

The songs and the sound of the instruments are straightforward and authentic.  That is what makes this particular collection so fine and why I love David Dondero’s music so much, it hurts, but I’m smiling.

Although David Dondero's discography includes six full-length productions, additional EP's, and Splits, he is still under the radar, but is blessed with a core group of adoring fans. This touring year has been good, and has given him the opportunity to broaden his exposure, opening for Jolie Holland, Bright Eyes, The Mountain Goats, and this fall for Against Me. Check out his site for upcoming touring dates.

David Dondero Website

Listen to the Rothko Chapel

David Dondero Myspace 

Musicians on this CD: Lance Solleck; Tom Heyman; Jonathan Humphries; Ben Howard; Travis Garaffa; Craig D; Eddy Hobizal; Lew Card; David Matysiak; and Rene Woodward.

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