P.J.M. Bond “In Our Time”

Concerto Records, 2023

Ambitious debut album that attempts to put Ernest Hemingway’s first collection of short stories to music.

artwork for P.J.M. Bond album "In Our Time"P.J.M Bond is a songwriter based in Amsterdam who first came to prominence around eight years ago with his band Dandelion releasing two albums along with several singles, as well as being a much-in-demand session musician for such notable artists as VanWyck. More recently he released a solo EP entitled ‘Sunset Blues’, (2021) that garnered much praise from these very pages with his acoustic folk singer-songwriter approach drawing comparison with a broad range of luminaries from James Taylor to Sufjan Stevens. On the back of that success Bond has now released his debut album ‘In Our Time’, inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s eponymous short story collection, first published in 1925, putting all seventeen vignettes to music and song. In addition to his passion for American West Coast music, Bond also has a similar obsession for American literature having obtained a Research MA at the University of Amsterdam and is a regular speaker at international conferences, with this enthusiasm clearly evident in his musical output.

For those not familiar with the life and literary works of the 1954 Nobel Prize Winner, Hemingway was an American Novelist born during the last year of the nineteenth century whose writings reflected his own personal world. From his early life in Michigan to his traumatic spell working as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Italy during The Great War, his time working as foreign correspondent for the ‘Toronto Star’ and his turbulent personal life that saw him married four times. Thematically his stories were often a tangled mix of violence and war, stripped of romance, creating a writing style that was described as ‘first distinction’, sparse in language with oblique depiction of emotion. In many ways his debut of short stories was his most experimental offering, particularly in its narrative form, shorn of ornamentation, with eight of the vignettes being written through the eyes of his alter ego Nick Adams.

So the question is how does Bond capture this sense of discordance whilst finding a fitting musical landscape for this most ambitious of projects. Well to start with he has brought in, as he did on his previous release, engineer Ed Brooks whose past work includes such household names as Fleet Foxes, Pearl Jam and R.E.M. This time round they have chosen a much broader musical palette with Bond displaying his musical dexterity, being responsible not only for all piano parts but also guitar, flute, harmonica and organ. The album opens with ‘On The Quai at Smyrna’ a relatively later composition by Hemingway that became the first story when the book was re-issued in 1930, here delivered as a piano-led instrumental with some fine cello accompaniment from Saartje Van Camp offering an immediate connection to the author who was proficient enough on the cello to perform in his school orchestra. The album’s running order stays true to the book’s 1930 re-issued edition and though seventeen tracks may initially sound challenging many of the prose were less than 200 words in length and fittingly Bond has remained economical with his scores, the complete collection barely running over fifty minutes. Tracks two and three ‘Indian Camp’, and ‘The Doctor and The Doctor’s Wife’, are linked thematically, both set in Michigan with caesarean sections, suicide and family tensions forcing Hemingway’s alter ego to deal with adulthood at an early age. Here Bond adds his own chorus to the narrative whilst an array of lap steel, banjo, mandolin, all supplied by Theo Sieben, and trumpet spice up the arrangement.

Hemingway structured his stories around three topics, ‘War’, ‘Sport’ (specifically bullfighting and horse racing) and ‘News Stories’, and Bond has effectively delivered a range of musical settings that allows each song their own identity, whether that be with the slide guitar on ‘The Battler’, the acoustic guitar, strummed on ‘The End Of Something’, picked, as on such tracks as ‘Soldier’s Home’,Out Of Season’, and ‘Cross Country Snow’. and piano and cello accompaniments as on ‘Mr & Mrs Elliot’. The production also does well to capture the constantly shifting moods and ambience, in particular offering up the sound of a heavy shower behind Reyer Zwart’s upright bass on ‘Cat In The Rain‘ whilst on ‘My Old Man’, the repetitive rhythmic pulse of the percussion helps to create the sense of horses racing around the track.

Bond’s vocal delivery is wonderfully creative across the whole album showing an innate understanding of his subject and the characters encased within, and though never able to convey Hemingway’s narrative abruptness he successfully captures the sense of loss, alienation and resignation. The latter is perfectly exhibited on the penultimate number ‘Big Two-Hearted River; Part II’, that reveals all the tranquil happiness in the solitude of one who has finally come to accept the unequal struggle. Musically the album’s atmospheric acoustic vibe creates a timeless quality that conjures up similarities of early Simon & Garfunkel to more modern lo-fi indie folk icons such as Iron & Wine and Bon Ivor.

‘In Our Time’, is undoubtedly an ambitious project attempting to marry twenty-first century music with twentieth-century classic literature, but in many ways it succeeds, not as a musical interpretation but rather as a companion to Hemingway’s great prose, with Bond deftly capturing the horror and the beauty with the despondent and the nostalgia of this eponymous work. By clearly demonstrating a scholastic knowledge of the renowned author he has been able to weave his own music and lyrical contribution to these short stories and bring a fresh prospective to Hemingway’s groundbreaking collection in such a way that the album works both as a separate body of work as well as paying homage to his idol, and in turn will appeal equally to those already familiar with Hemingway’s work and those who enjoy P.J.M Bond’s brand of modern singer-songwriter folk music.

8/10
8/10

About Graeme Tait 126 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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