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The first and last testament of T.S. Bonniwell

Music Review: T.S. Bonniwell – Close

T.S. Bonniwell will always be remembered as the leader and vocalist of the 1960s psychedelic garage band The Music Machine. His gritty vocals fronted one of the rawest rock groups of the mid-1960s. Their big hit single “Talk Talk” and the follow-up “The People In Me” defined the garage rock style of the era.

The Music Machine was never very commercially successful. Only “Talk Talk” reached the American top 40 and within a few years the band had dissolved. Bonniwell managed to obtain a contract as a solo artist with the Capital label and released one album before retiring from the music business. Real Gone Music has now resurrected his one studio album after a four decade absence.

Close was a surprise for any fan of The Music Machine, Bonniwell, or ’60s garage rock. The surprise was the completely different musical direction he took. In fact, he moved to a different musical universe when putting the album together.

Gone were the fuzzy guitar sound, tinny organ, and growling vocals. In its place were introspective lyrics, a smooth vocal style, and even some horns and strings. The lyrics were melancholic and the music ran in a folk-pop direction with occasional traces of bossa nova and even flamenco. What finally emerged was a highly personal manifesto from an artist who was maturing as a musician and person.

The songs were an eclectic bunch. “Where Am I To Go” was the story of an adult looking back at his childhood and how he wished it would have been. “Temporary Knife” has a romantic darkness that belies the up-tempo nature of the music. “Love is Such A Simple World” was a delicate song of the human heart. “Black Snow” has been included on a number of Music Machine compilations. Here it appears in a far simpler and thoughtful form as the volume is ramped down and the focus is squarely on the lyrics.

In the final analysis I prefer his Music Machine sound, but Close is a fascinating look into the mind of T.S. Bonniwell. The re-release would prove to be his swan song as shortly after being interviewed for the album he passed away from lung cancer, December 11, 2011. Left behind is his one solo album, which now serves as his epitaph. It’s still worth a listen today.

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