Buddy Mondlock Filament BuddyMondlock.com
Until this week, I hadn’t listened to a Buddy Mondlock album since Poetic Justice, an album that is as fresh heard today as when first encountered.
Something drew me to that discarded copy of Poetic Justice in the used disc store many years ago, likely shortly after its 1998 release. Darrell Scott was all over the record, but I don’t know if I was aware of him then. More likely, I noticed Nanci Griffith sang on a single song, and it caught my eye that Guy Clark was credited on the final track. For whatever reason, I paid my $10 down and walked away with what turned out to be a superb album of mature, singer-songwriter perspectives.
And then I neglected to check in again as Poetic Justice and Buddy Mondlock were swallowed by the hundreds and then thousands of CDs surrounding them on the shelves.
I continued to be aware of Mondlock, of course. I knew he co-wrote “The Dark” with Guy Clark, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it listed as the closing track to this album. Appropriate placement given Filament’s title, cover art, and overarching theme of individual steadfastness within challenge.
I’m certain a lot has changed in 25 years—for both of us—but when I slipped Filament into the disc player the other morning, time passages faded into the dark.
In many ways a meditative album, Filament is a display of songwriting acuity with each word and lyrical phrase ideally positioned to convey metaphorical and literal precision. “Filament,” the song, somehow recalls “Mary Jane’s Last Chance,” with the lyric “a filament is a fragile thing” resonating as metaphor for our current, collective social-emotional dysregulation.
If one expected a gruff, road-weary voice from Mondlock, one would be mistaken. His voice has always been smooth and quite gentle, reminding me today a bit of Mark Erelli. Buddy Mondlock writes songs that are made to last, ones that may not be discovered by the broader world today, but ones to serve as guideposts within a near future.
Do yourself a favour, and find them now.
“Jackson Petty” examines the personal impact of a long-ago war-torn land, a man mentally ravaged by trauma absorbed as a youth. An exceptional song, one that I imagine will stay with me forevermore. Written with Iraq war veteran Nick Tibbs, “Weak” offers a contemporary perspective of those returning, seemingly unscathed; truly incredible as a song performance.
Mondlock’s songs are provided bountiful instrumental support throughout Filament. Producer Brad Jones and Mondlock have chosen to layer these compositions with a wide variety of guitars (played by themselves) as well as Hammond B-3 (Jones). Further contributing to the bold arrangements are pedal steel (Jim Hoke), drums and percussion (Josh Hunt), as well as violin and viola (Avery Bright), flute and oboe (Evan Cobb), and cello (Austin Hoke). Along with harmony vocals from Melissa Greener and Carey Kotsionis, the effect throughout but especially on songs like “Sunlight in My Pocket” is a courageous and multi-faceted production bringing to mind a Paul Simon album more than that of a Nashville troubadour.
As do all quality songwriters, Mondlock creates relatable vignettes from outside our familiarity; he finds the commonality of human narrative, and exploits it to craft cinematic songs to which all listeners can connect. “The Woman in the Window” (written with Richard Berman) and “Ticket Taker Blues” are just two examples, the first a mysterious interlude where casual observance bordering on voyeurism leads to connection, the second an examination of daily internal fantasy.
More ‘commercial’ may be “Come Back First” and “Perfect,” songs that have ‘hit’ all over them—a groove, a hook, a catchy chorus; it’s all there just waiting for a programmer to discover. Ditto, “Problem Solved.” Remember when mainstream country was brave enough to colour outside the lines? I do, and “Problem Solved” would have found itself on the side two of a hitmaker’s latest album, giving the artist added credibility.
As mentioned, “The Dark” closes the album. More recitation than song, this lonely, poetic examination of that which surrounds us is simultaneously foreboding, comforting, and illuminating. Certainly, one of Clark’s finest co-writes, and to hear Mondlock’s interpretation is a gift.
Filament is a masterful roots release from a songwriter and singer who has long been one of the most respected in the field. It is, quite simply, a masterful recording of incredible songs.
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