album reviews

Tracy Bonham
masts of Manhatta
Engine Room Records (2010)

Kindred spirits: Joan Osborne, Alanis Morissette, Liz Phair

Tracy Bonham's 1996 debut arrived at the beginning of the Lilith era, putting her at the right time and place to have a hit with her feisty, howling song "Mother Mother."

Bonham has mellowed quite a bit in the decade since. Her latest album, "Masts of Manhatta," is more contemplative as she embraces a slower-paced life ("We Moved Our City to the Country" concludes with dogs barking behind Bonham's mood-inducing humming). Bonham seems entranced by travel narratives. "In the Moonlight" and "You're My Isness" present vignettes of road trips, while "Josephine" starts off with an image of a woman being dragged off against her will.

Bonham maintains an easygoing pop feel throughout: The tuba and violin accents on "Josephine" give the song a lighthearted mood, while "Big Red Heart" has a swaying, bouncy rhythm. Lyrically, Bonham makes a few pop-culture references that feel a little forced ("People posing, re-creating a Jackson Pollock," she croons on "Your Night Is Wide Open"), but overall "Manhatta" is a charming pop album from a songwriter who could have ended up as a one-hit wonder.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 6 August 2011
.: Masts of Manhatta on