Craftsmanship shows in new album by experienced songwriter.
Buddy Mondlock is a veteran Nashville songwriter, a pro who’s been turnin’ em out since the 70’s. He is a stalwart of the song-making factory that manufactures Nashville’s principal product. Mondlock has form in Nashville, which replaced Tin Pan Alley decades ago as the place to head if you’re a songwriter or an artist on the lookout for a song. He has been in Nashville since the late 1980s. Originally from Chicago, where he opened for Steve Goodman on New Year’s Eve 1980, Mondlock’s songs have been on the lips of the A-list, not least Garth Brooks, Guy Clark, Janis Ian, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul & Mary. He has also written and recorded songs with Art Garfunkel. All these years, Mondlock has also performed and recorded his songs.
‘Filament’ is Mondlock’s sixth studio album and it is a study in modern music-making. He used a Kickstarter campaign to raise a fair bit of the money needed to produce the album. He released it himself, online, without a label. It’s a model that many artists are using now because the technology makes it possible. Mondlock is joined on the album by a great list of contributors including the producer, Brad Jones. The result is a polished collection of country/folk pop songs.
One can hear echoes of some of Mondlock’s contemporaries. ‘Filament’ reminds one of Tom Petty. ‘Sunlight in My Pocket’ has a definite Paul Simon vibe. The ‘Woman in the Window’ could have been a John Prine song. But influence doesn’t mean imitation. All these songs have Mondlock’s personal touch. They are originals.
Some tell stories from Mondlocks’s life. ‘Jackson Petty’ is about his great-great grandfather’s experiences in the American Civil War and World War I, as told to him by his grandmother. With ‘Weak’, a song written with Iraq veteran Nick Tibbs, Mondlock strikes a contemporary note. Coming out of Mondlock’s involvement with veterans diagnosed with PTSD through the program Music Therapy of the Rockies, ‘Weak’ captures the pain of those engaged in that ill-judged American military adventure.
‘Weak’ is an important song but it is also one of the weak points of the album. Its visceral lyrics don’t match the sweet tone of the production. Another problem is that while Mondlock ticks most of the boxes in ‘Filament’ – there are love songs and a great break-up song, ‘Come Back First’ with catchy lyrics – overall, it seems a bit like a product. ‘Ticket Taker Blues’ reprises the sadness of classic blues without the tragedy. Being stuck in a limited job may be frustrating, but doesn’t carry the weight of slavery, working on a chain gang, or cotton share-cropping. The one song that stands out is ‘The Dark’. Written with Guy Clarke and first released in 2002, this version is more recited than sung, which matches its poetic imagery.
‘Filament’ is a good album, well-crafted, but somehow lacking the spark that would make it great. It illustrates the difference between a table handmade by a good craftsman and one by George Nakashima. Both reveal experience and skill. But the first would be no more than solid and beautiful; the second would have all of that, as well as depth and delight. ‘Filament’ is in the first category.