The well-traveled Simon Bonney has changed his tune. The former lead vocalist of Crime and the City Solution (a band joined in the mid-’80s by two ex-members of Australia’s grating and innovative Birthday Party) has reinvented himself so effectively that listeners unfamiliar with his extensive back catalogue are bound to think him a product of America’s heartland — a firsthand witness to the demise of the Midwestern industrial town, and the pain and chaos caused by common social disaster.
Now based in Los Angeles, Bonney is a product of places both removed and relevant. The farm-raised Australian spent a significant amount of his Crime career in Berlin, where the band trademarked and exported its own gloomy brand of experimental art-infused dirge. In the two years between Crime’s swan song and Bonney’s first solo album, the singer tired of Europe and took a growing interest in American country-western of the late ’60s and early ’70s, with a heavy emphasis placed on the “western” portion of the phrase. (Crime had shown some very slight leanings in that direction after the departure of Rowland S. Howard from the band in 1987; evidence of Bonney’s evolution can be traced from the group’s Shine album as well as Paradise Discotheque.)
Free of the complications of a full band, Bonney — joined by former Dwight Yoakam guitarist J.D. Foster, erstwhile True Believer Jon Dee Graham (lap steel, Dobro) and ex-Crime violinist Bronwyn Adams, among others — unloads a full range of American-bred introspection on Forever, the sort that can only be characterized as the result of numerous heartbreaks and a succession of minor letdowns. Much of the stupendous record is purposefully languid and calculated to the last note and final sentiment; it could serve equally well in a Wim Wenders film or a seedy Texas bar. “A Part of You” and “Someone Loves You” marry roadhouse sensibilities to the kind of warmth and wisdom displayed by Green on Red in the early ’80s, while the title track fosters an urge for a shot or two of Wild Turkey and a good cry. Forever is a yeoman effort, well worth a good listen or ten.
Everyman, a heartland concept album, is even more credible than Forever. Although Bonney tries too hard to apply his powers of observation and analysis to Everyman‘s big picture, the material within is still admirable. Drawn in broad strokes, Everyman tells a story of an itinerant on the hunt for odd jobs throughout the Southwest in a nearly vain attempt to keep his family alive. The small towns he hits once seemed to have bright futures, but now seem useful only to truckers who stop for a meal. He meets old girlfriends along the way, battles temptations of nearly every sort and wishes to more peaceably accept what little he has. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and the finale, “This Is What You Made Me,” are gently touching and revealing, while the most accessible number, “Don’t Walk Away From Love,” sounds like Chris Isaak on a bad day — and that’s a compliment.