The Bonazzoli Band are centered around singer, guitarist and songwriter Matthew Bonazzoli who has been writing, recording and performing music for twenty five years. He started out in an alternative art rock band called Innocent Victim where he wrote songs with his brother Damian.
This led to another band called Gearhead who won numerous awards through their duration. In 2004, Matthew met pianist Patrick Thompson which led to The Bonazzoli Band, now a seven piece. They recorded their first album Quiet Little Towns after two years developing their sound and this second album American Ghost Stories was recorded and produced by Matthew himself.
Their music varies in style, encompassing rock, blues and country but the distinctive trademark of their sound is undoubtedly Matthew Bonazzoli’s remarkable voice. It is similar in tone to Roy Orbison and Nick Cave, with a touch of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. He has a similarly large vocal range, capable of hitting some very high notes in full voice. This expressiveness helps give these fourteen tracks an emotional resonance throughout.
After a mood setting introduction track, opening song Road Have Mercy is an upbeat rocker that features a driving guitar riff and a haunting vocal melody. Bonazzoli’s vocal performance is excellent, switching from a low croon to rich high notes sung with vibrato. It also contains some blistering lead guitar work.
As the album title suggests, these songs tell a story and Double Cross is a haunting tale of a cheating lover who puts him in a dramatic situation: “Double talking, double crossing…with a gun pointed at me….”. This mid paced country track brings to mind Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads.
Taking Chances is similarly paced but more traditional in subject matter, a romantic ballad that features his finest Orbison style croon, aided by some lovely backing harmonies. Black Cat is another song with some poetic, powerful lyrics: “One road led to ruin, and one road led to fame…don’t know what I’m doing, cos they both looked the same…”. The barrelhouse style piano gives it a vibe of a Western film, and the music is full of these cinematic touches.
Long Black Carriage is another ‘ghost story’ about a mysterious woman who drives a long black Cadillac: “If you see her on the road at night, you might not ever come back…”. The music is suitably eerie, with a descending high guitar line creating a mood, along with some sparse female backing vocals.
Concord Road is a lovely string-laden song in a lilting 6/8 time signature, and continues the Gothic vibe with lyrics about driving through graveyards and a powerfully melancholy chorus : “Is it raining where you are? Its raining down here….”. It’s a slow burning epic featuring a beautifully constructed solo.
If You Wait For Me and Can’t Let Go show more of his romantic side, the former featuring warm organ and more haunting strings. Can’t Let Go is a paean to the isolation you feel after the end of a relationship, and the heartfelt lyrics are touching.
Invicta is a guitar led instrumental and one of the more upbeat rock tracks on the album, also giving a chance for some musical expression. The descending guitar line is very effective, and the soloing is superb.
Best Of Intentions is an acoustic ballad which starts with a lovely picked guitar figure and it’s one of the more melancholy songs on the album: “The saddest truth becomes a very twisted tale and the best of intentions sometimes fail….”.
Front Porch paints a poignant picture of decline: “There’s an old dog chasing after fireflies but his legs ain’t what they used to be…and the paint is fading from the bannisters on that front porch that I will never see...”. The chorus seems to be about a family reunion because of a passing over: “We will all come together for that long last breath….we will all come together eventually…”. A touching country track with some lovely instrumental colouring from organ and what sounds like picked mandolin.
Union Station continues the mid paced country ballad style, this being one of the album’s epics at six minutes, with a Bruce Springsteen vibe: “Raise a glass and propose a toast to ghosts and memories of old times and pass it around…”. The album finishes with a beautiful instrumental called Do They Dream, composed of choral sounding synths. It’s a haunting piece of music and a nice way to close.
Overall, this is an album of high quality songwriting and musical performance that has been well recorded and produced. It maintains its theme throughout more or less and Bonnazoli has forged his own writing and singing style over the years. The lyrics are as strong as the music, which is not something you can often say. For those looking for exquisitely crafted torch songs full of romanticism and mystery, look no further.
Verdict: 8.7 out of 10