erasing clouds

David Dondero, South of the South

reviewed by dave heaton

"American Troubadour", a Phil Ochs compilation was called. It's also a fitting description for David Dondero, whose life seems devoted to travelling and singing about the places he goes, the people he meets, the lives he lives along the way. Because of this, his songs offer an acute version of the world around us, with vivid looks at places and how they're changing, at people (outcasts, especially) and their experiences.

His fifth studio album South of the South is yet another example of this, riveting through and through. It opens with the title track, a journey into south Florida that's filled with colorful scene-setting. Within the song's recollections are both raw personal feelings and a travelogue that paints pictures of Florida past and present. The way it's recorded here it's given a graceful, haunting aura. It's followed by one of Dondero's most pleasurably melodic songs yet, "I've Seen the Love", which weaves a bittersweet story of love lost.

While South of the South's first two songs are memories, its second two are about trying to let all memories go. On the racuous "Journal Burning Party" Dondero sings about everyone taking all their memories and setting them ablaze, a collective starting over. It's followed by its more meditative, country-blues-flavored twin "Let Go the Past". "Let go the pain that drove you insane / let go and find a new start," Dondero sings. As hopeful as he sounds here, the album overall is more marked by the pain itself, by loneliness, sadness, confusion, and hurt.

"You Shouldn't Leave a Lover Alone Too Long" is a catchy folk-tune that tells a tale of betrayal; its neighbor "Pornographic Love Song" is one of the rawest songs Dondero's ever sung, a stormy, harsh account of sex, manipulation, and pain that somehow also stands as darkly beautiful. South of the South tells tale after burning tale of being left behind, leaving others behind, finding yourself unsure of where you're headed and why. The entire album is driven by this push-and-pull between being haunted by your past and trying to escape it, between wanting to change and being pulled back into old habits, between stepping forward and stopping mid-step to worry. It's another remarkable album from a singer with a true gift for telling stories through song, who deserves every word of praise and Townes Van Zandt comparison that gets thrown his way....and then some.


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