When I got to the bottom of a stack of independently released CDs I’d been sent for review consideration, I was a bit dubious that I’d have any luck finding any thing noteworthy to tell you about, Dear Readers.
I get lots of releases sent to me and being a musician / composer myself, I really do try to give everything a spin at least a little bit to see if there I make a connection. For whatever reason, many fall by the wayside: poor production, weak songwriting, lackluster vocals, lethargy or simply that it is not my cuppa tea. Thus I won’t write a negative review of something simply because I didn’t connect with it. Someone else might love that album.
Anyhow, when I got to the bottom of the pile there was a CD with a bleak cover design featuring an attractive woman on the cover, dressed in black, lying on a couch with eyes closed under the title Last Will & Testament.
Was this going to be a goth rockabilly country bummer? Schmaltzy lounge jazz?
I put it on and 30 seconds into the album by Bonnie Whitmore reeled me in with the rocking lush title track (apparently written after a friend in the local music community committed suicide).
Like a deep dark purple flower, Last Will And Testament reveals more and more detail with each petal that opens, track by track. The production aesthetics are wonderful here with many grand surprises uncommon for an independent release like choirs, orchestral strings and sophisticated, haunting arrangements.
I didn’t know anything about Bonnie who turns out to be from Austin, Texas and has quite a track record of touring in support of artists such as James McMurtry.
She is also known to be quite direct. From her official press release bio we learn: “As someone who’s never shied away from the issues, she’s not afraid to be direct. Her record is full of topical songs, tackling suicide, rape culture, loss, and the great American divide. It’s not easy to talk about heavy subjects without weighing the music down, but Whitmore pulls it off without difficulty. It’s like she’s used to talking about serious matters in casual conversation — which she is.”
This comes across in the music loud and clear, delivered with power and intent.
“None Of My Business” was written after the 2015 Paris terror attacks and the elevated the production and dramatic arrangement reminds me no less of another Texas-born singer songwriter performer I discovered last year around this time (at the last concert I saw before the pandemic lockdown), Amber Martin (you can read my review of her album by clicking here). Seriously, this is a big production number with a killer hook and neat Mellotron-like touches, ELO-esque chord changes and George Harrison-esque lead guitar lines.
“Fine” is a more traditional country-tinged Americana rocker that Linda Rondstadt or Bruce Springsteen could easily perform. Listen for that last vocal where she takes her voice up to a final resonant “I’ll be fiiiiiine.”
If anything is quirky about this album is the way it refreshingly refuses to be locked into one genre. “Asked For It’ is a pile-driving pulsating angry rocker this side of The Pretenders and Tom Petty that addresses rape culture, especially the key bridge line “and each time you silence them recreates the same event.”
“Time To Shoot” is another one of those songs I could hear Bonnie doing with Amber Martin, mining dramatic Springsteen-eque territory. They even use the haunting violin flavor he toured with around 1975 just before Born To Run broke out (click here to listen to the classic live cover of Dylan’s “I Want You” for reference). This is an epic song that builds and builds like a track by Ireland’s The Frames and their founder Glen Hansard. Topically, the song is about guns, violence and hatred, raising a question to the shooters “why did it seem worth it at the time?”
The circus-y “Imaginary” feels like it might fit on Elvis Costello’s Spike or Mighty Like A Rose.
Perhaps my favorite track on the album is not by Bonnie but by Will Johnson of a band called Centro-Matic. He adds backing vocals on her epic production of “Flashes and Cables” which seems to be about extreme police force. Its a powerful track.
And so it goes with Bonnie Whitmore’s Last Will And Testament, a fine independent release with major label aspirations.
You can find Bonnie Whitmore’s Last Will & Testament for sale on Amazon (click the title anywhere in this review to jump to it). If you like streaming, you can check her album out on Tidal (click here) and Qobuz (click here) streaming in CD quality. Bonnie kindly sent me a vinyl copy of her album to check out — you can order it through her website (click here) — and it is pressed on thick, dark black, quiet vinyl that sounds really nice, making the strings sound rounder and warmer in complement to her rich vocals.
I’m looking forward to hearing more from Bonnie Whitmore. You should check out this music. Following are some new videos from the album.