Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#938 in the Series) is the eponymous debut from Karla Bonoff
Karla Bonoff is almost the female version of J.D. Souther. Like J.D., she was a denizen of Laurel Canyon and hung with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, and the rest of the cosmic cowboys. The two also shared the unique gift of song-craft that perfectly suited the times and the country-rock vibe that was permeating the L.A. scene in the early to mid-seventies. Also like Souther, Karla made a name for herself with her songs that were recorded by other artists most notably “Home” that was recorded by Bonnie Raitt, as well as “Someone To Lay Down Beside Me” , “Lose Again”, and “If He’s Ever Near” all of which appeared on Linda Ronstadt’s Hasten Down The Wind album in 1976.
Starting out as a background singer for Linda Ronstadt, Karla recorded her eponymous album in 1976 with a work-horse rhythm section led by Leland Sklar and Russell Kunkell who were stalwarts on the Ronstadt and James Taylor albums in the day, along with the Omni-present Waddy Wachtel on guitar. Also making guest turns on the album are Glenn Frey, Linda Ronstadt, Andrew Gold, and J.D. Souther.
With a vocal style that sounds like a cross between Carole King and Carly Simon it would be somewhat unfair to dismiss her as a poor woman’s Linda Ronstadt. Her phrasing is a little tighter, her vocals to my ear a bit more crisp and precise, and her presentation definitely a lot less sultry than Linda’s, but hey she also happens to be one heck of a better song-writer than the former First Lady of California.
The album opens with the beautiful “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”, a lovely ballad with a touching piano intro layered with delicate strings and Waddy Wachtel’s almost ethereal guitar playing. It was a hit in Linda’s delicate hands and a real powerful classic performed by the originator.
“I Can’t Hold On” (Co-written with “Squeeze-sters” Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook) is an upbeat song that could have appeared on a Fleetwood Mac album and is almost too up-beat a tempo for a tune about someone that can’t take any more and decides to leave. The Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther vocals in the background are almost worth the price of admission alone on this one.
“Home” also appeared on Bonnie Raitt’s 1976 album Sweet Forgiveness and is a nice laid-back tune with some stellar pedal steel guitar work and some great Beach Boys style background vocals.
The fifth song on the album “Faces in the Wind” is probably the strongest vocally but also suffers from a little bit of the sameness quotient from the previous songs.
“Isn’t It Always” Love should have been a hit single and probably would have been had it been on Tapestry here it is simply a strong up-lifting love song.
The song “If He’s Ever Near” actually sounds stronger in Linda’s range, however the song itself is such a great one the step down in quality is only very subtle.
As a debut album Karla Bonoff holds its own right there alongside Hasten Down The Wind and only a slight notch below Sweet baby James as one of the stellar albums from the boulevard of spoken dreams that was the Laurel Canyon music scene of the mid-seventies. And as far as the total package goes where the songwriting talents are equal to the performing talents, no female with the excepting of possibly Carole King did it better.
It is likely that even if you have heard this album it has been a very long time. Do yourself a favor and check it out. You will be glad you did.
- Someone to Lay Down Beside Me (Bonoff) 4:03
- I Can’t Hold On (Bonoff, Difford, Tilbrook) 3:12
- Lose Again (Bonoff) 3:40
- Home (Bonoff) 4:17
- Faces in the Wind 3:04
- Isn’t It Always Love (Bonoff)3:06
- If He’s Ever Near (Bonoff) 3:15
- Flying High 3:27
- Falling Star (Bonoff) 4:27
- Rose in My Garden 4:44
- Karla Bonoff – Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals
- Michael Botts – Drums
- Dan Dugmore – Steel Guitar
- Kenny Edwards – Bass, Guitar Mandolin, Vocals
- Steve Forman – Percussion
- Glenn Frey – Vocals, Vocals (Background)
- Andrew Gold – Clarinet, Clavinet, Guitar, Harmonium, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals
- Emory Gordy – Bass
- Russ Kunkel – Drums
- Greg Ladanyi – Cymbals, Finger Cymbals, Percussion
- Linda Ronstadt – Vocals
- Leland Sklar – Bass
- J.D. Souther – Vocals
- Waddy Wachte – Guitar
- Wendy Waldman – Vocals
- Brock Walsh – Vocals
- John Ware – Drums
- Jai Winding – Piano