Haley Bonar: …The Size of Planets (Chairkickers, 2002)
Haley croons at the end of “Car Wreck,” “I sing about the things I love/I sing about the things I love….” To sing about what one loves can be personal, painful and open. Haley, on …The Size of Planets, conveys all three. Frankly, I don’t know if Haley is bearing her soul or if the people in her songs are characters, but, if she is singing about herself, I have not heard such a personal album since Jesse Eubanks‘ West Coast Politics, East Coast Love. Not only are her lyrics thought provoking and emotive, but the passion in her voice is not overwrought nor unconvincing but beckons the hearer to listen intently to her story. The album is laden with organ, acoustic guitar, and stripped down drums. The instrumentation provides dramatic accents to her voice that enhance rather than distract.
Each individual song on this album is a strong contribution. The themes of love, innocence lost and growing up are all treated freshly and personally. Her writing takes these potentially hackneyed themes and makes them powerful. The entire album holds together and feels fluid and consistent. “Bless This Mess” is probably the song that impacted me most on this album. It speaks of growing up, imperfection, and disillusionment. She speaks of her religious roots and how she croons for acceptance in spite of her current worldview.
Mom and dad took me to church
to learn the word
to speak it good
I’m sure I was a good enough little girl
made them proud
sing it loud
oh, mr judge it wasn’t always this way
I just changed one day
realized I’ve strayed
a little parade
for a little girl with a freckled face
I smile wide
guess I lost my pride
guess I lost my pride
Haley goes on in detail about her change unapologetically. I find writers often avoid this type of religious laden song, and Haley makes one powerful song with her honesty. Like traditional songwriting, the song is just Haley and her acoustic guitar telling a story, but not in that trite way. She displays her ability to communicate through music in a powerful way through this song.
The opening track to the disc, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” begins with haunting organ and Haley‘s melancholy vocals. She sings of her love for a cowboy and her yearning for that epic context we find in westerns. That mythic setting of the range and the heroic cowboy that just might go weak in the knees just for her. This description is not to give the impression that this song sounds like a country tune. It has sparse drums and accented organ reminiscent of Low with Haley’s voice carrying the melody. It is mid-tempo and moving.
Another highlight on this disc is “Car Wreck.” I can hear the influence of major singer songwriters on her music here combined with Low‘s slow build. She starts the song quiet and is able to build to multiple crescendos throughout the course of the song. There is jangley guitar, stripped down drums and distant hints of strings, organ and some electrical sounds. “Go away angels” also has an open religious feel to it. This is one of Haley‘s quieter songs with just accents of guitar and Haley‘s beautiful voice. She speaks to the angels and tells them that they are not needed and they make her nervous and, frankly, she is poor and broke but happy with her guitar. The images she conjures up are beautiful, melancholy, and powerful. “The Water” seems to hint at suicide and one’s sinking while a friend notices and tries to help. This is another stripped down song with snare keeping time and the organ once again. Haley‘s voice is put on an echo effect and it really brings the lyrics alive.
All in all, I would call this disc powerful. Haley seems like a seasoned songwriter. Her voice is compelling, and she backs that voice up with meaningful lyrics and music that gives itself to the song. She croons and begs the hearer to listen and I sure will be listening for sometime to come.