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Music Review: T.S. Bonniwell – Close

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It is hard to believe that this folk-rock masterpiece has not been issued on CD before now. Close by T.S. Bonniwell is one of those few records that people have plunked big collector’s dollars down for, but usually not as an “investment.“ This is an album with a very special appeal, and most people who buy it, buy it to listen to. The fact that Sean Bonniwell himself mixed the album for this CD reissue is nice to know. That way there is no question about how he wanted it to sound. Sadly, he did not live to see the actual release though, as he passed in December 2011.

Mr. Bonniwell left quite a legacy though. He started out in a quintessential Nuggets-type garage rock band, called the Music Machine. Their big hit was “Talk Talk,” although they recorded a few albums before the inevitable breakup. Close is Bonniwell’s solo debut, on which he used the initials of his full given name, Thomas Sean Bonniwell. A few of the songs were written in the Music Machine days, but they never really fit the psychedelic/garage style of that band. Sean held them back until he was able to record them the way he heard them in his head.

What he heard sounds a lot like Love’s Forever Changes to me. The 11 songs on Close all share something of an acoustic, folk based sound, with strings and female backing vocals. Sean’s lyrical concern are not as LSD-drenched as Arthur Lee’s were, but his does not shy away from serious topics. Although he is never preachy, a careful listen to the words reveals some weighty subjects being written about. A close listen reveals him investigating romance, faith, family, and mortality, all within the framework of three to four minute songs.

He was also very aware of structuring the album’s tracks to tell a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The tone is set from the opening “Where Am I To Go,” which finds Bonniwell’s guitar nicely augmented by keyboards and his own highly expressive voice. Other highlights include “Who Remembers,” “She Is,” and the string-heavy “Black Snow.” “Continue” is an interesting cut. At first I thought Bonniwell was acknowledging the nascent country-rock movement, which was just beginning to gain traction. But no, this is more folk-based, and I found myself thinking of Phil Ochs’ classic “Small Circle of Friends.”

The most Love-influenced song on the album is “But Not With My Heart,” in which our hero bares his soul, accompanied again by strings and his acoustic guitar. Finally we come to “Sleep,” the album’s closer. This song contains the rawest emotions of the album, and the most beautiful. The strings are right up front, but the sentiments will break your heart. This is a beautiful album, and a CD reissue that many will be happy to see.

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