Review : David Dondero - A Pre-Existing Condition
Pitchfork"I need to get away," David Dondero sang on his last album, 2010's # Zero with a Bullet. "I really need to get away from me." As David Bevan pointed out in his review, Dondero sounded like a man on his last professional leg, a cowboy staggering with a bullet wound. He'd been in the music business for nearly 20 years, playing in a variety of genres and bands before settling into a solo career playing dusty country folk. His warbly vocal style inspired Conor Oberst, and NPR's "All Things Considered" called him one of the best living songwriters, yet sales remained negligible over the years, even after he signed to his protégé's Team Love Records. It's understandable that any artist might be discouraged with such a lousy return on his creative investment, and at the risk of coming across as bitter or entitled, # Zero with a Bullet exorcised that frustration even as it threatened to make failure the theme of this phase in Dondero's career.
His quick-on-the-heels follow-up, A Pre-Existing Condition, is the artist getting away from Team Love, from electric guitars, from himself. In addition to returning to Ghostmeat Records, which released Dondero's first two solo efforts in 1999 and 2000, he revisits an older sound and older songs: At distinct odds with # Zero, A Pre-Existing Condition is an all-acoustic record, relying on guitars, upright bass, and harmonica as well as shakers, tambourine, and caxixi. It's a rough-and-tumble sound, no less sophisticated for sounding so spontaneous, especially when William Tonks' dobro illuminates the cover of Neil Young's "Don't Cry No Tears".
Of the baker's dozen tracks, only four are Dondero originals-- three if you believe "Please Hand Me Over to the Undertaker" is actually a decades-old gothic blues number (it sounds like one). The remaining nine tracks are covers ranging from Lowell George's trucker anthem "Willin'" to Elizabeth Cotten's "Freight Train" to "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'", a massive hit for Charley Pride. Unshouldering the songwriting burden, Dondero sounds lighter and more engaged, his signature vocal style lending these songs a loose interpretive touch. He even has the temerity to adapt Jimmie Rodgers' "T for Texas" for a cheap shot at you-know-who: "Gonna shoot that dirty hipster that stole my voice away." The song, however, can't really support the sentiment, which sounds like a too-clever twist ending....full text
AltpressDavid Dondero (ex-Sunbrain/This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb) has tried something new with his ninth album, A Pre-Existing Condition. Not only is it his first entirely acoustic album, it also features a number of cover tunes, including his interpretations of songs by Little Feat, Charlie Pride, Neil Young, Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Jawbreaker, and others. Before we continue, yes… Jawbreaker. And, yes, it’s “Boxcar,” one of the best pop-punk songs of all-time. It’s daunting for an acoustic folk singer like Dondero to tackle one of Blake Schwarzenbach's crowning moments, but his version is sublime; it’s a mellow, understated take on a song we all thought could only be played larynx-out, all post-punked and blazing. The rest of A Pre-Existing Condition is just as impressive, from Dondero’s original compositions to his versions of the types of cover songs that lesser men would never dream to tackle. Dondero’s voice is endearing, kinda nerdy and bookish, but sweet and likeable. One original, “Not Everybody Loves Your Doggie Like You Do,” is the best pet song since the Weakerthans’ “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute,” funny and cute enough to send shivers down the spine....full text
AtlantamusicguideIf you could hear a an adult-version of a kids album, what kind of artists would be on there? Bob Dylan? Neil Young? Woody Guthrie? Jawbreaker? OK, cue record scratch, Jawbreaker? On A Pre-existing Condition, the ninth full-length solo effort from highly-acclaimed singer/songwriter David Dondero (ex-Sunbrain/This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb), this has become a reality. The 13-track album features original compositions side by side with Dondero’s interpretation of songs by artists such as Little Feat, Elizabeth Cotton, Charlie Pride, Neil Young, Woody Guthrie, Doug Sahm, Jawbreaker, Bob Dylan, and Jimmie Rodgers.
A Pre-existing Condition, which is Dondero’s first all acoustic album, was recorded just outside Athens with Rob Keller (Six String Drag) on upright bass and backing vocals, William Tonks (Bloodkin) on dobro and guitar and Russ Hallauer (Sunbrain), who also produced the recording, on mandolin and tenor banjo. Other special guests include Clay Leverett (Now It’s Overhead) on harmonies and Ken Will Morton on harmonica. With a clever delivery of some old favorites, Dondero uses his mellow, almost mocking, voice to sing us these old style lullabies. Dondero’s voice holds a certain honesty that even the famous seem to latch on to; longtime fan Conor Oberst says, “It was hearing David Dondero’s voice that made me comfortable with my own.”...full text
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