How do grown-ups celebrate Valentine’s Day?
The songs Karla Bonoff brought to The Egg’s Swyer Theater on Thursday suggested that any such festivity must include the recognition that love is hard and painful — but worth it.
As a writer, Bonoff creates slow songs, or slower ones; where love is often lost and lamented and there’s seldom time to savor it.
As a performer, she may have suffered over the decades from comparisons to Linda Ronstadt, who recorded Bonoff’s songs before Bonoff had the opportunity to, and whose voice resembles Bonoff’s but is thicker and deeper.
On Thursday, Bonoff sang consistently with the same sort of simple strength that Ronstadt brings only to songs in which she has the deepest confidence.
Bonoff seldom used vibrato, except briefly in “Home” (which Bonnie Raitt recorded before Bonoff could) and instead simply nailed the notes while nuancing the emotions behind them.
Sometimes, idealistic hopeful sentiment reigned: in “If He’s Ever Near,” which she said she wrote before recognizing most guys are, and stay, jerks; “The Heart Is Like A Compass;” the wedding-sentimental “Standing Right Next to Me;” and her set-closing “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me.” These were sweetly delicious.
Her sad songs used the same sort of simplicity to powerfully evocative effect, especially “Goodbye My Friend,” mourning a vanished favorite cat, and “I Can’t Hold On,” whose spunky beat gave her sad lyrics a gutsy irony.
Bonoff’s acoustic guitar playing seldom rose above the stolid, and she grinned wryly on hitting a clam in “Goodbye.”
Fortunately, her 40-year musical partner Kenny Edwards (bass, guitar and mandolin) and Nina Gerber (electric guitar) added color, managing to inject the spunk back into “Isn’t It Always Love” that Bonoff drained out by slowing it down.
Gerber most often used a chiming countryish tone, the bell-shaped notes Albert Lee favors; but she revved to a wilder, Waddy Wachtel LA attack on the poppier songs.
A lifelong southern Californian who didn’t see snow until age 18 on a road trip commemorated in “Home,” Bonoff offered far more than just an LA musical tanning booth or hot-tub.
She seldom challenged her fans musically, barely reworking at all the familiar songs her fans recognized in the first notes.
But her clearly observed, cleanly articulated words invited listeners into her feelings and their own.
Cheerfully declaring himself “a kinda anti-Valentine’s guy,” Kenny Edwards proved true to his word, and was way more than a place-holder in his 30-minute opener.
“Let It Go” resignedly faced divorce, “No Tears” faced fears and suggested our risks should be solely our own.
His grown-up, lonely, lost-love laments reached their peak, or valley, in “My Misery and My Happiness.”
He switched from guitar to mandolin and plumbed depths of desolation, leavened by acceptance edging into wit, a dive into despair worthy of the great Buddy Miller.
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Categories: Life and Arts