erasing clouds

David Dondero, The Transient

reviewed by dave heaton

David Dondero's fourth album The Transient opens with the rambunctious "Living and the Dead," where he describes his life as a constant tour and laughs at it a bit ("I play the skinny indie white boy blues"), while also sincerely offering his love for the world around us. There's a moment partway through the song where he describes how fleeting life is and sings "you better make your moment potent," coughing between notes at the end of the line to empasize his point. It's a brief, kind of funny moment that feels like the essence of Dondero's aesthetic: live life while you can, and put some songs down as the record of where you've been.

Always criss-crossing the country in search of new stories, places, and experiences, David Dondero is a modern-day folk-rock troubadour in the tradition of the late, great Townes Van Zandt. But he's not trying to live up to some idea of what a "traveling folk singer" should be, based on legends of the past or TV images; he's as genuine as they come. His latest album The Transient, is (like his other three albums) filled with his personal observations on the world around us and the life stories of people he's met, all filtered into melodic but raw songs.

The Transient was recorded in Lincoln, Nebraska with Mike Mogis, who has produced albums by Bright Eyes, Head of Femur, Rilo Kiley, and more. From Mogis, who added some extra instruments here and there, and a few other Nebraskan guests (most notably, Tiffany Kowalski on violin), the album gains a full, pretty sound in exactly the right places. Extra textures added to Dondero's stripped-down songs in just the right way, so you're not aware of them until they casually come in and sweep you away, as on the gorgeous love ballad "The Stars Are My Chandelier."

"Saw the stars align in 27 straight rows/saw the trees becoming lovers in the shadows/heard the crickets overpower every radio," Dondero sings on that song, as he goes on to detail the ways that the world around us is part of us, and we're a part of the world around us. In his own unassuming way Dondero is a real poet, coming up with insights about life and articulating them in beautiful ways. Sometimes he sings about his feelings, sometime he's describing what he sees, and sometime he gets into the mind of a person he's met-as on "20 Years," the story of a man fresh out of prison-but in every case he has something to say that's worth listening to. Most importantly he's a riveting performer and songwriter, adept at forming his observations into songs that will stick with you, that you'll want to carry with you from day to day.


Issue 16, October 2003

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