Tracy Bonham: Masts of Manhatta

Tracy Bonham
Masts of Manhatta
(Engine Room)

Some may have written off singer songwriter Tracy Bonham as a one-hit wonder with her 1996 chart-topping single “Mother Mother” off her gold selling debut full length The Burdens of Being Upright.

Though her mainstream success was gone in the blink of an eye, the two-time Grammy Nominated alt-rocker continued releasing a handful of solid full lengths and EPs over the past decade.

Bonham’s latest, entitled Masts Of Manhatta, is her first full-length album in five years. On the 11-track release, Bonham is backed marvelously by the Brooklyn-based Smokey’s Roundup, a trio led by guitarist Smokey Hormel, who has an extensive resume including Beck, Norah Jones and Tom Waits.

Gone is the alt-rock you may remember from Bonham’s earlier work in favor of a more mature and confident singer, still trying to find a balance in her life in between the big city and the rural country side. The dichotomy of this is none more evident in the track “We Moved Our City To The Country.”

Before we skip ahead on Masts Of Manhatta, let’s rewind to the smokey seductive album opener “Devil’s Got Your Boyfriend,” which has a bit of a New Orleans voodoo jazz feel. Then she floats effortlesly in “Your Sight Is Wide Open.” On “Big Red Heart,” Bonham and the boys pick up the pace for a nice laid back rocker and channels her inner Tom Waits and Lisa Germano on the quirky (but loveable) backwoods “Josephine.”

Further on in the record, “Reciprocal Feelings” is a really nice story with only a piano as the backdrop. “In the Moonlight” weaves another good story about a road trip with a mother and her daughter. The album closes with the straight-out alt country gem “Angel, Won’t You Come Down?” and the bouncy pop rocker “I Love You Today.”

Tracy Bonham took the title Masts Of Manhatta as an ode to the Walt Whitman poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and it fits these tracks perfectly. The record is beautifully diverse as it flows poetically with a variety of instruments including Bonham’s flawless violin playing. However, more than anything is Bonham’s writing skills where she uses word play to take the listener on many journeys.