REVIEW: Bill Gottfried — Onion Doves (LP)
No one should ever say BD Gottfried’s songs don’t tackle serious themes. His new release Onion Doves features thirteen compositions spanning a wide gamut of human experiences and his varied point of view doesn’t wallow in trivialities. The album’s title, for instance, is a metaphor for those promoting peace while harboring hidden agendas. Decisions such as this set an overarching tone for Onion Doves’ songs, however, that distinguishes the album from more standard fare.
Produced by award-winner Siegfried Meier, the opener “Truth, Such a Rarity” is an ideal way to kick things off. Cinematically scaled musical narratives like this are increasingly rare and even rarer are those who attempt it understanding longer doesn’t always mean better. Gottfried condenses his musical vision without ever diminishing it. The song’s hypnotic piano melody has an elegant swirl and Meier’s stewardship of the track’s sound balances its different elements quite well.
He continues doubling the lead vocals during “Bathing with the Sinners”. You may wonder why he even bothers; Gottfried’s voice is well-suited for these songs. Manipulating the singing, however, gives it much more body than it might otherwise manage. The piano remains the abiding building block for his songwriting, but even by this early point newcomers will note Gottfried’s capacity for melodic invention.
Many will enjoy his talent for eye and ear-catching titles. “Comic Book Messiah” opens with a denser electronic backing than we’ve experienced thus far. It evolves into a much more conventionally arranged song reminiscent, in some ways, of the band Asia. The similarities end with the words. It’s one of Gottfried’s finest pieces and I believe it has massive commercial appeal.
The title song “Onion Doves” has a stronger synthesizer presence than any of its predecessors. It has a languid pace and the sense of Gottfried pushing a little further than he does during previous performances makes it stand out even more. Orchestration is a double-edged sword; it can sink otherwise promising songs in clumsy hands while artists possessing sharper instincts can take listeners into another world. “Onion Doves” has a lush glide sweeping listeners up from the first and never hitting any sustained lulls.
“Dance of the Serpent Queen” is a sparkling synthesizer-dominated instrumental showcase. The upbeat central melody and its variations neuter any sterility in the electronic sound. Technological possibilities never glaze over Gottfried’s eyes and he places a clear priority on melody. It gives his songwriting urgency. “Romancers of the Dark” has a similar electronic foundation but it isn’t an instrumental. He coarsens the texture of his melodic ideas, but the effects are never overwrought. Distorting his vocal, likewise, fails to dissipate its dramatic impact.
It’s a bold move to cover Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”. The original version of Trent Reznor’s harrowing self-indictment is a personal touchstone for many, without question, but Johnny Cash’s cover shortly before his death catapulted the track to the level of a dark standard. Gottfried doesn’t move into this rarefied air with even a hint of doubt. His audaciousness is total. He ignores much of the song’s past in favor of an epic reinterpretation. It’s a must-hear experience for anyone who loves imaginative and fully realized songwriting.
The spectacular “Earth and Air” takes his pop rock songwriting ambitions to their logical endpoint. It barely comes up short of the three and a half minute mark but, once again, sounds much larger. It’s difficult to determine how much live instrumentation fuels the music but nonetheless has a powerful sonic attack. This song puts an exclamation point on the album, but Onion Doves has a bevy of riches. Its vigorous aural and lyrical vision takes a backseat to no one.