Masts Of Manhatta, Tracy Bonham’s first full-length album in five years, will be released on July 13th by Engine Room Recordings. Produced by Bonham, the album was mixed by Tchad Blake (Tom Waits, Los Lobos, Lisa Germano) and features the Brooklyn-based Smokey’s Roundup, a trio led by guitarist Smokey Hormel (Tom Waits, Beck, Norah Jones), as the backing band.
Masts Of Manhatta is deeply rooted in the places where Bonham resides and recorded the album – Brooklyn and Woodstock, NY. It reflects two circular journeys: one leading Bonhamaway from music only to return to it, renewed, and a second – her trek from city to country and back, creating a loop as she responds to the inexorable pull of the two disparate ways of life.
“The City versus Country theme threads through the record,” says Bonham. “This is our life at the moment: the balance of nature and the big city. Longing to be surrounded by nature, to get back to a quiet and balanced life, but needing to be in the city as working people/artists.”
“We Moved Our City to the Country” tackles this dichotomy outright. “We find ourselves wanting to get away from the city, getting closer to nature, but unable to really walk the walk and finding most people doing the same: still attached to comforts – and our American suburban conveniences like Home Depot, Target, cell phones and wireless Internet,” she observes.
Yet Masts Of Manhatta suggests it is possible to retain a purity of spirit even amidst the trappings of urban life. The title is a nod to “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” a poem by Walt Whitman.
“As Whitman is describing the waters, the birds, the people on the ferry, he looks back at the tall buildings of lower Manhattan and writes: ‘Stand up, tall masts of Manhatta!’ as if the buildings are masts of a ship,” says Bonham. “He's having a moment of wonder and I love that. At that moment he sounds perfectly present, in the moment, loving being alive and connected to everything, everyone.”
For Bonham, that sense of connection emerged in the years following the 2005 release of Blink the Brightest, as she fell in love, married and sought to lead a simpler life. To do so might require a career change, she initially thought. A devout student of yoga, she obtained her teaching certification last summer in Woodstock. Spending time in “a little bluestone cottage” there, reading Whitman and Emerson aloud with her husband, she came to realize that she could take her music back to the basics as well. She began writing just for herself – raw, honest songs. In time, friends joined in and Masts Of Manhatta was born.
While it came about in an organic fashion, Masts Of Manhatta is not exactly a collection of bucolic songs. Bonham’s trademark wit and wordplay are at work whether evoking the dirt we sweep under the carpet or the kind that gets under your fingernails. She attempts to be her own best friend in “Reciprocal Feelings” – but is at first rebuffed. The sizzling “Devil’s Got Your Boyfriend” is every bit as seductive as the temptress the narrator warns of. “When You Laugh” is an exquisite paean to a love “like June and Johnny,” but ecstasy cuts and burns on the percolating “Big Red Heart.” The gently rollicking “In The Moonlight” recalls a mother-daughter road trip that, years later, reveals an eternal truth.
“Mom’s favorite saying was ‘to thine own self be true,’ a quote from Hamlet,” Tracy remembers. “I would always roll my eyes as a teen. I never paid attention to those words until much later in life.“
In “Josephine,” innocence evaporates when a carnie carries away a young girl. And while the infectious “Angel, Won’t You Come Down?” wouldn’t sound out of place at a barn dance, elsewhere Bonham’s violin brings traces of classical, klezmer, blues, tango and more, all coalescing into a sound that’s uniquely her own. Fans can check out some of the new tracks at http://tracybonham.com/.
Prior to the release of Masts Of Manhatta, Bonham will play several shows in New York. On April 28th, she’ll perform at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO Brooklyn and she’ll continue her residency at Cornelia Street Café with a show on May 5th that will feature special guest Rhett Miller (Old 97’s). Bonham will play Soundout for Scholarships, a concert benefit for Woodstock Day School featuring Deborah Harry, Chris Stein and Matt Katz-Bohen of Blondie plus several special guests, at the Bearsville Theater on May 28th. She’ll also appear at the Beacon RiverFest 2010, a free concert that will take place in Beacon, NY on June 26th.
A native of Eugene, Oregon, Bonham began singing at age five, playing the violin at nine and piano at age 14. After attending the University of Southern California in violin performance and studying jazz vocals at Berklee College of Music, she started her own band and began writing songs. Her 1996 major label debut, The Burdens of Being Upright (Island) with the hit single “Mother Mother” was certified Gold and led to a pair of GRAMMY® nominations (Best Female Vocalist and Best Alternative Rock Performance). Down Here followed in 2000 and Blink the Brightest was released in 2005 to widespread critical acclaim. “Bonham sings with a maturity and clarity reminiscent of songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Shawn Colvin, backing her words with self-executed guitar, keyboards, piano and violin,” said Amplified. Rolling Stone praised its “tuneful alt-rock” while Entertainment Weekly said, “Bonham was built to last.”
She’s toured extensively and has appeared on numerous television shows, including “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” and “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” among others. Tracy has also released two EPs and appeared as guest vocalist/violinist with artists such as Blue Man Group, Juliana Hatfield, Ron Sexsmith, Aerosmith, Wayfaring Strangers, Latin Playboys, NoBlues from the Netherlands, Soulwax from Belgium, Mark Oliver Everett of The Eels, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin.
MASTS OF MANHATTA – TRACK LISTING
Devil’s Got Your Boyfriend
Your Night Is Wide Open
Big Red Heart
When You Laugh The World Laughs With You
We Moved Our City To The Country
In the Moonlight
You’re My Is-ness
Angel, Won’t You Come Down?
I Love You Today
click here for lyrics