Review: “This Guitar” by David Dondero
If there’s one singer/songwriter out there who has paid his dues several times over, it is highway poet and American troubadour David Dondero. In evidence of this, David has released an all-new full-length album titled “This Guitar.” A career-defining piece of work if ever I’ve heard one, this collection of Dondero originals is not just a continuation of his signature outbound sound but the turning of a significant page in the rambling life of an artist who has given everything to music and received very little in return. That is, until now, with the recording and pressing of “This Guitar” having been funded entirely through fan donations and other such contributions through Kickstarter. As such, this album stands as David’s first departure from releasing through record labels.
Throughout the eleven songs on “This Guitar,” David’s ninth studio album to date, he actually manages to top much of his earlier material, and undeniably gives his all as an artist…and then some. The selfsame song, a poignantly autobiographical title track, explains his love/hate relationship with music, with his guitar and the life it has brought him over the years. But he also sings of how he will keep at it until his end, or until he “slips away,” as the song goes. And that is a statement one cannot doubt, since it is very clear that David cannot be anything other than what he is—a born singer/songwriter, as well as a drifter, a poet, and a singularly gifted fringe artist.
While listening to the eleven songs on “This Guitar,” one will come across slow pickers with tremulous vocals, folky acoustic strummers with clever wordplay, and rock-tinged compositions with auxiliary instrumentation, like keys and horns. There is something undeniably genuine and uncompromising about this handful of songs, something deep and engrossing, from the note progression and emotive vocals of the opener Roses and Rain to the closer, which is the guitar version of the title track, with its beautiful picking and profoundly stirring vocal delivery. “This Guitar” isn’t the end of the road for David but rather a truck stop along the way; a collection of songs marking the experiences and observations, and the thoughts and feelings visited upon him as he moves between destinations.
“This Guitar,” at its core, is the result of a long music career that has taken away more than it has given, a gift which at times has seemed like more of a curse, and which has left him standing too often somewhere along the open road with a few crumbled bills in his pocket and his guitar in his hand. A guitar which seemingly goes from a burden one moment to a blessing the next, from heavy as an albatross to light as a feather—the duality of its very existence, it would seem, at least as it pertains to this specific owner. But David is unquestionably at his very best when overcome by trials and tribulations, when he is a struggling artist, when the horizon seems so impossibly far down the stretch of highway upon which he travels, and when he’s had too much to drink and finds himself in the sort of mad situations he eventually writes about and effectively transforms into song.
In the song Take A Left Turn at Boise, David shows he is still “the Transient.” Boxer’s Fracture is actually a rather solemn song, and artistically metaphorical in its way, though not without a small sense of hope about it. Then there’s the drinking song, aptly titled Alcohol, in which David sings about yet another thing in this life with which he has developed a love/hate relationship. While many of the songs on “This Guitar” are quite personal, there are a few by means of which David conveys some pretty important socio-political messages. First there is Samantha’s Got A Bag of Coal, in which David’s lyrical content focuses primarily on the worst side of humanity, like the runaway capitalism train that has taken all of the haves to their desired destination and left all the have-nots behind (“money-driven bastards putting profits over people”); dishonest preachers selling people a religion they themselves can’t even practice properly and ethically (“the hypocrite who’s preaching in the church under the steeple”); small-minded homophobes that drive gay, lesbian and transgendered people over the edge with their persecutions and senseless hate crimes (“homophobic bigots spreading violence on the people”); authorities that are supposed to protect and serve but only end up harassing and harming (“the overzealous cop acting like he’s the Gestapo”); and so on. And then there’s New Berlin Wall, in which David speaks out for the illegal immigrants senselessly deported, for the legal citizens that have tragically fallen victim to racial profiling, and against the absurd lengths the U.S. will go to enforce border security.
In a past review I referred to David Dondero as the Kerouac of outsider folk music. And that holds just as true today as it did back then, perhaps even more so. And in 2006, when NPR’s All Songs Considered named David one of the “best living songwriters” alongside Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Tom Waits, they knew exactly what they were doing.
David lays it all on the line in “This Guitar.” Definitely an album not to be missed.