Bill Mallonee • “Lands and Peoples” Album Review

You can buy “Lands and Peoples” here… and you should…

I want to get the musical part of this out of the way first so that I can review this album in a way that seems more “organic” to me. So… first off, Bill Mallonee has been crafting songs and recording albums for decades, but that’s not what strikes you. In his just over 60 years he has recorded nearly 60 albums worth of material, whether with the Vigilantes of Love (the group I first heard of him in connection with) or with various studio bands he’s assembled over the years, or, as is the case with this CD, virtually on his own (in this case assisted by the very talented Muriah Rose).

When someone is a “popular” songwriter they often manage to hone and craft their music to the point where several songs’ worth of great material might come together to create a really catchy hook-laden pop anthem that plays through the speakers of every pair of “beats” headphones and makes everybody in the world walk around changing “Don’t believe me just watch!” They create music that is impossible not to listen this year, and impossible to stand listening to next year. That’s one way to go. Just not Bill’s way. Bill doesn’t edit much I reckon. He just puts it all out there. It just happens to all be good. And there aren’t the “pop hooks” that so many value so highly, and as a result, instead of wearing on you, “Lands and Peoples” grows with each listen, and improves.

Filled with every conceivable “Americana-esque” stringed instrument imaginable (not to mention keyboards, accordions and organs), Mallonee litters his songs with rolling arpeggios and old-school American rhythms, different instruments that give each other plenty of space in the mix but don’t sound processed, a bass and drum sound that is entirely organic and very un-radio-friendly (I mean this as a compliment, I assure you) and a voice that whispers and sometimes rasps (musically, though) pretty much every thought that makes its way through his head at one time or another. Again, Bill isn’t an editor. He’s a storyteller and a pundit with a vast number of anecdotes to bless you with, musically. I’m hesitant to describe the songs and themes, because I hope, like me, you let this CD take you on a tour through Bill’s mind and heart and life, without even reading the title of the next song first. Suffice to say there’s equal parts longing, regret, melancholia and a little joy to round things out.

Bill’s influences, many from before your time, shine through this release strongly. There’s some Neil Young and Bob Dylan of course, but there’s an old-school country vibe that would never get within a mile of the stuff they’ve played on the radio for the past 30 or 40 years, and even though Bill plays nearly all the instruments here, he succeeds in creating a great “band sound” that would be very much at home in an old country bar or even perhaps a really big front porch miles from anywhere.

So, here’s my word-picture review. But first… If you are the kind of person who likes slick pop anthems and heavily produced ear candy, you might not be ready for Bill’s music, but if you’re tired of that, here’s what listening to Lands and Peoples (or any of his other recent work for that matter) is like.

You’re driving, probably through the southwest in late fall, in an old Ford truck that still runs great but the door is tricky so you have to open it just so. You are heading on a 1 hour drive where you don’t see much except the occasional old house or abandoned business. The A/C doesn’t work, but it’s a cool day anyway. You can’t fuel up or stop to eat until the end of the trip, ’cause there’s nothing on the road, and you pick up a hitchhiker. He proceeds to tell you all about his life, smokes about 2 packs of cigarettes* on the journey, and even though you can’t get a word in edgewise, you can’t stop listening. He tells stories you aren’t sure really happened, and he tells stories that make you make mental notes about things you want to look up later perhaps (who is this Diego fellow? for instance –full disclosure, because of my upbringing, I already knew the answer to that). When you get to the end of your journey, you wish he could stay, but he has to go his way, and you have to go yours. He flashes a winsome smile, adjusts his hat, and goes on his way…

So you hope you’ll make this trip again soon…

and you hope the same hitchhiker appears…

*I have no idea of Bill smokes. It doesn’t matter, it’s just a word-picture, right?


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