I never expect to go long between Bill Mallonee’s releases, and I am grateful for that. Bill’s writing has long been a source of comfort and inspiration to me. His music is always relevant and fresh, lyrically he is the best in the game and he is one of the most prolific storytellers around. I hold the hope that one day he will write a novel – I think it could be a notable work considering the years, the history, and the traveling experience that he has in this art form of Americana. Back to the music…
This collection of songs was inspired by three things according to Mallonee. I took the liberty to quote him directly from his website about Hard-Scrabble Dreams. The three sources of inspiration according to Bill, “One was John Steinbeck’s eloquent work, “The Grapes of Wrath,” the second inspiration was a gift from Muriah, a photographic essay, called, “Bound For Glory” (America In Color 1938-1943) It is an arresting testimonial. The images of “just plain Americans,” I believe, are some of the most heroic and inspiring you’ll ever see. The last inspiration was a gift as well. It was a gift from the American people. It came from the folks I’ve played for over these past 22 years. This land & its great people have always been the frame of reference of my work, from the day I first crawled into a rattle-trap van to do my first US tour in 1991. They, and their stories and lives, have been inspiring me ever since.”
I am a huge fan of Bill’s work; I own it all in abundance. I honestly believe that this WPA is a testament to the words referenced above. Bill’s inspiration for this album comes through in every way through these songs. I think lyrically it is stripped down and honest, and musically I think it is quite possibly the best he has ever done. These tracks shine with renewed vigor, and a rustic intensity of grace. The first song here “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah (I Got Faith like a Butterfly’s Wing) is possibly one of the most beautiful songs that I can recall from Malone’s recent work. Thematically many of these tracks center around the topic of faith, and in true fashion they are riddled with an honest intensity and a trusted fragility that pushes the listener into deeper truths that really ache and ebb inside every one of us.
One of the things that struck me when reading Bill’s notes about the album was when he related, “But the poor also live inside of us. We are them. They are a reminder that a man is not the measure of his possessions.” That struck me because Malone has scratched out a somewhat sparse living for years now. But what he has done is to take the talent and the gifts that God granted him and dug deep and found the majestic in the mundane of daily hardship and toil. He has taken the stories and the questions from over twenty years of documenting life on the road, and he has fashioned them into ragged stories about struggle and grace, beauty and desolation; about the hope that we still cling to and the perseverance that pushes us on. This is the stuff of life.
Hard-Scrabble Dreams has a total of ten tracks. We get treated to “Bakersfield” from The Power and the Glory sessions (and WPA Vol. 9 Drifter Songs), and it actually fits perfectly into the spirit of the other songs here. There are three alternate tracks and seven brand spanking new songs on here. One of the most effective songs on here for me is “Faith (It All Comes Soaked in Gasoline).” This is one that I think can rival favorites like “Blister Soul” or “Welcome to Struggleville” because of the accurate acknowledgement of the bitterness of life, of choices we are confronted and conflicted with, and with the paradox of something bigger than ourselves that begs for our reliance and trust. Bill brings these truths home in a way that we can understand. Again, I think lyrically this is the heart and soul of an American poet at his best. Mallonee creates because he is compelled to, and I think if none of us were listening he would still be doing it… fortunately for us we are listening, and I believe that this WPA offering is the best of the bunch.
“I dunno what you heard before to got here
dunno what you thought you’d see
one thing about faith, you can be sure of
It all comes…soaked in gasoline
It all comes…soaked in gasoline”
Head over to the BandCamp store and drop a few coins on this release. I know that you will be pleased with this, it is a solid and seasoned release from an artist that truly embodies the very story that he captures so well through his music.
[2012 Independent | Purchase: billmalloneemusic.bandcamp.com]