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Tracy Bonham

Down Here (Island)

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Leave it to a classically trained violinist to excel at writing three-and-a-half-minute pop songs. Four years after Tracy Bonham's impressive debut, The Burdens of Being Upright (which yielded the lively hit "Mother Mother"), the Berklee College of Music dropout continues her foray into singles-driven ditties that show more of an allegiance to rock history than to Rachmaninoff. On Down Here, Bonham finds comfort by wading into The Beatles pool ("Freed," "You Don't Know Me") -- specifically from the '66-'67 era. The fact that the violin is her instrument of choice only adds to the Magical Mystery symphonic allusion. The Boston-based songwriter's previous album was a touch more Led Zeppelin-obsessed, perhaps stemming from her performance in the backup orchestra on the Page & Plant tour. (Incidentally, the singer is no relation to dead Zep drummer John Bonham.) But if one is going to concentrate on an album of tidy pop singles, then the occasional nod to The Beatles is more worth praising than criticizing. On most of her dozen songs, Bonham finds a way to structure her music with an underlying level of dissonance (the killer bass lick on "Cold Day in Hell"; the guitar intro/verse of "Meathook") while still layering catchy melodies on top with her girl-next-door voice. Bonham tends to use her violin as texture rather than as a solo device, creating menacing riffs and odd background flourishes. It's the type of playing more reminiscent of the title character's bit in "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" than in the hero Johnny's hoedown. It is this mixture of stygian riffs and heavenly harmonies that allows Bonham to successfully sculpt her own art from familiar rock materials.

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