Bonnie Whitmore - There I Go Again - 6/11/13 - This Is American Music
Bonnie Whitmore's last album had a body count and a title, "Embers to Ashes," that implied a fiery finality. There are broken bones and hard lessons learned on Whitmore's new album, but its title - "There I Go Again" - suggests less ominous themes.
"I feel like I've grown up a lot," she says. "I just turned 30 this year, and I've been in the business 15 of those years. There's been this humbling aspect to my writing, this attempt to make the songs in a way that's singable and relatable. It's not as selfish as 'Embers,' which was a record I needed to do to get through that period of my life. This one's more a celebration of some successes but also learning from failures. Plus, nobody wants to hear two breakup albums in a row."
Fittingly, the music also reflects a radiant change of direction. The rootsiness of "Embers" isn't absent, but the songs are decidedly less country sounding. Keyboards are played up in places a steel guitar might have inhabited, the drums are more prominent, and Whitmore lets her big voice run through some big, inviting choruses.
"We knew when we had these songs that we were making a pop record," says Whitmore. "It's not the same Americana sound that we had with 'Embers.' This one is a lot more put together. I think it comes across as more polished. It's definitely a pop record, and I love pop records."
She cites Tom Petty's ability to balance the earthiness of roots music with hooky pop parts as the model she aspired to on the album. "He made these amazingly awesome pop songs, but he was able to keep them within the lines, so you could hear just how beautiful these melodies were," she says. "I hate the phrase - 'who inspired you?' - but his music has had a great influence on me throughout my life."
Whitmore also credits her parents, both the music they chose to play at home in Denton and on the radio, and also her father's band, which featured Whitmore starting at age 8, as well as her sister Eleanor.
By 15, Whitmore was playing professional gigs outside the family. She sang in Hayes Carll's band for a while, and recently she spent quite a bit of time touring and recording with the Mastersons, the husband/wife band featuring sister Eleanor and Houston native and guitarist Chris Masterson.
They're good family to have: Both of them play on Whitmore's albums, which Masterson produced.
There have been tough gigs for Whitmore along the way. She went to Kickstarter to finance the new record. There she included a video with some footage from a particularly undesirable gig performing in a sports bar beneath the glow of a giant flat-screen TV.
"Those can be hard ones to play," she says. "Three hour gigs, and it's disheartening to play when nobody cares. It can be a humbling experience."
But her album title speaks to a commitment to her music. "It seemed like a pretty good title for a second album," she says. "But it has that sense of what you're doing when you're putting out music: Diving back into the deep end and seeing how well it floats. Nobody is really doing this for the money. Doing this because you love it is the only reason to do it at all. There's nothing else I'd rather do. Once you've grown up and realized that's your place and it's what you're meant to do, it doesn't seem so bad. Then it doesn't seem like you're giving up anything. Sometimes you have three people come out, sometimes 30 or 50 will come to the show. But they do it because the love it and care about it and spend their time doing it. It goes back to Woody Guthrie playing union halls. It's romantic in a way to know that this life is one you've chosen. And that it's worth it in the end."
- andrew dansby