CD Reviews - Bombadil's 'A Buzz, a Buzz' and A.A. Bondy's 'American Hearts'

Bombadil is charming, but the band is best when it explores its dark side.
Bombadil is charming, but the band is best when it explores its dark side. (By Julie Roberts)
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Friday, November 21, 2008

BOMBADIL "A Buzz, a Buzz" Ramseur Records A.A. BONDY "American Hearts" Fat Possum Records

THE ASSET that Bombadil relies on most is its charm (which isn't lacking).

Between the sensitive songwriting, playful instrumentation and everyman vocals, the North Carolina-based quartet clearly has the heart of a dozen hipster "it" bands. As such, the group's debut full-length album, "A Buzz, a Buzz," abounds with youthful energy, although it comes across as a still-maturing band's labor of love.

Clearly, the members of Bombadil are inherently nice, optimistic guys. Nowhere does this fact demonstrate itself more clearly than on "Smile When You Kiss," a feel-good bit of inspiration propelled by bouncy acoustic strumming. However, when Bombadil veers toward cutesy terrain, the result can be cloying, such as on "One Two Three" or "Caterpillar Tree (For Old Time's Sake)," which features silly scat in its intro.

Although the lads of Bombadil always seem eager to please with enjoyable pop arrangements, "A Buzz, a Buzz" fares better when it veers into darker, more complicated territory. The title track is an extended jam that focuses more on musical experimentation than on the creation of a digestible pop song.

Bombadil's niche is clear: The band thrives on its diverse international folk influences. The further away it moves from pop constructions, the more memorable its future albums will be.

Back in 2003, Alabama hard-rock outfit Verbena released what would be its final album, "La Musica Negra." It was a densely distorted, brutish record marked by singer Scott Bondy's sneering vocals.

But when Bondy comes to Iota on Saturday, he'll be a changed man. Having adopted the moniker A.A. Bondy, the singer's new solo material finds him losing the rock swagger and unplugging his guitars. The reinvented Bondy's latest album, "American Hearts," features 12 songs of Americana.

While Bondy's songwriting sensibilities remain the same, with themes of religion and love taking center stage, his new sonic direction lends a timeless quality to the songs.

No longer masked by the distortion that Verbena used, Bondy reveals himself to be a deft guitar player. The arrangements uniquely fit each song, with harmonica, hand claps and other organic, earthy sounds providing a homespun touch to the album. After listening to a track as inviting as "Black Rain, Black Rain," it's hard to believe that this is the same artist who snarled out songs such as "Devil in Miss Jones."

Other highlights on "American Hearts" include the album's title track (one of the album's most anthemic and melodic efforts, featuring only guitar, harmonica and Bondy's high rasp) and the spare, spooky opener, "How Will You Meet Your End."

-- Dan Miller

Appearing Saturday at Iota (703-522-8340, Show starts at 9:30 p.m.

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