Alan Bonner is a singer-songwriter whose Balladeer is his second album after 2008’s Songs for the Heart Shaped, although his latest effort will undoubtedly be many people’s first experience of him (as it is mine). His website describes Balladeer as ‘Alan’s own unique take on the romantic and the political, the heart-breaking and the uplifting’. Quite ambitious then, but does he succeed? Let’s find out.
Lyrically, the album definitely works, with loneliness devastatingly portrayed in opener ‘Autumn’ while ‘Lighthouse Song’ contains a similar theme of love lost with the juxtaposition of some rather rude words about an ex against a rather sentimental chorus- ‘we’re all looking for a lighthouse, something or someone to guide us home’. However, there are equally weak links in that on most of the latter half of the album, the lyrics are not always too easy to discern in the midst of a wailing melody or under-pronunciation. ‘Ocean’ also often seems like it is clutching at straws to create metaphors relating to the ocean that begin to feel forced. Not to feel too negative however, ‘Talia’ creates some very effective references to our daily lives, including Glastonbury and university, undoubtedly to appeal to a certain student demographic, ‘Little M’ is beautifully dedicated to a young girl growing up, and ‘Better Man’ is the perfect uplifting song to finish the collection of songs.
Musically, there is a good mixture of delicate and poignant piano-accompaniment-only songs- most notably ‘Rainbow Man’, and the strings on ‘Autumn’ perfectly set off the lamenting vocals and piano, with the different voices of the ‘cello and violin creating contrasting between the verses and chorus. Nicely matching its most consistently decipherable lyrics and upbeat mood that goes against the bitter words, the mixture of guitar and keyboard on ‘Lighthouse Song’ is clearly very well thought out and put together, and the most slick backing vocals of the album also appear on this song. Unfortunately, these do not feature as successfully on every song; the backing vocals often sound forced and less vocally successful and in tune than Alan’s lead vocals which cannot be argued against. However, even in the backing vocals’ worst moments, they always provide a good effect and have been thoughtfully added to appropriate parts of the songs. Obviously the recording can’t be expected to be impeccable, considering Alan is still up and coming and is looking for management, and the rough vocals can be forgiven for this.
The best two songs on the album are easily ‘Autumn’ and ‘Lighthouse Song’, with their ultimately relatable themes with cleverly contrasting musical moods and lyrical devices. Although not a perfect release, there is so much potential here that Alan deserves all the support he can get in order to get out the third album that he deserves. To finish, here is another quote from his website that excellently sums up his mission statement and why some of these songs are so great: “Balladeer is a set of beautifully-crafted songs of love, loss, hope and redemption from a 21st-century Troubadour with folk leanings and a pop sensibility.”
Balladeer can be listened to here: http://soundcloud.com/altpr/sets/alan-bonner-balladeer-1