Quarto Valley 2022
Prime lady of British blues takes her proper place at the forestage in the company of her consort and faithful coterie.
It might seem impolite to disclose a woman’s age, but in the realm of blues the notions of vintage and authenticity play an important role so, having turned sixty, Deborah Bonham eventually finds herself exactly where she’s supposed to be: at the peak of her career and out of her legendary sibling’s shadow – although the songstress is in a family situation anyway, assertively and impressively strutting her artistic stuff alongside husband, guitarist extraordinaire Peter Bullick and longtime cohorts who provide their eponymous debut with all the warmth top-notch covers require. Mending a lyric here and bending a lick there on a variety of classic cuts and later lore, the couple apply their chosen genre’s tropes in a manner which make the tracks’ narrative fresh and never clichéd – the experience akin to waking up in a B&B and coming down for a meal and anticipating a delicious dish. The experience that’s exciting – and profound.
With this album, Ms. Bonham finally joins the venerated ranks of her brother’s former labelmates Maggie Bell and Paul Rodgers, offering the same reserved, yet resolute, purely British soulfulness and grit. Easily reclaiming its ultimate form from another DB, the man who sold the world, Debbie delivers the storming, scintillating take on “It Ain’t Easy” – but not before darkening the drift via her individual vision of Ashley Cleveland’s mandolin-tinctured “When This World Comes To An End” and Patty Griffin’s piano-laden “When It Don’t Come Easy”: two contemporary tracks which are covered with vibrant patina here to blend into the platter’s context. The record has the similar start, too, propelled into slow motion by the eerie reading of Bernard Fowler’s “See You Again” – rendered hauntingly spiritual thanks to the howl of Peter’s strings and Richard Newman’s hypnotic beat – to build tension that will surpass simple pining and let off steam once Albert King’s “Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me” landed on Bullick’s ebullient solo only to delve into the unfathomable gloom of “Bleeding Muddy Water” to elevate Mark Lanegan’s epic on instrumental wave and harness the heavy piece to the Delta tradition.
In harmony with the dreamcatcher in the ensemble’s logo, designed by their axe-slinger, “I Had A Dream” melts into sweet lava of a melody, the singer filling in the gaps in the groove with smoldering passion that the shimmering ivories of John Baggott’s Hammond fuel as much as Jo Burt’s robust bass, before giving “I Don’t Know Why” the most honeyed treatment, where the entire band’s performance is exquisite, and drowing the silence-sucking twang of “Trouble Blues” in tears. To emerge from such depth, they sparkle up “Sit Yourself Down” and instill sway and exuberance into this Stephen Stills evergreen as well as into Ann Peebles’ “I’ll Get Along” which has a newly fashioned shuffle to its slider-kissed roll and Deborah’s feisty voice. Bonham and Bullick’s crunchy approach may update “What Did I Do Wrong” in ways Betty Harris should approve of, yet their delicate, ghostly handling – highlighted with B.J. Cole’s pedal steel – of Chris Wilson’s “The Changeling” brings the platter to a perfect finale.
It’s impossible to count the ways in which this record must be devoured and savored: “Bonham-Bullick” is the best hour one can spend with the blues in 2022 – or any other year for that matter.