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July 2000 Pick of the Month
Audible Sigh
Artist: Bill Mallonee & Vigilantes of Love
Label: True Tunes Records/Rhythm House
Length: 49:13 / 13 Songs

Samples
Goes Without Saying
According to the old adage, the third time is a "good luck" charm. For the Vigilantes of Love's sake, fans can certainly hope that is true. It does almost go with saying that things could be a lot worse for this critically acclaimed, much loved band. They have endured an inordinate amount of abuse by former mainstream record labels that failed to adequately promote them.  Audible Sigh was originally slated for release on April 20th of 1999, but when the Pioneer Music Group record label went south, the album was lost in limbo. But not for long! John J. Thompson of True Tunes Records (www.truetunes.com) came to a rousing rescue, and in July of 1999 a Limited Edition Pre-Release was eagerly snapped up by eager fans blessed enough to order one on-line. Now after nearly a year, True Tunes saves the day again and the new and improved version of Audible Sigh is finally being released to the appetent masses. And there is much rejoicing.

In much the same way that Karl Wallinger is World Party, frontman Bill Mallonee is the Vigilantes of Love. He's always called the shots, wrote and sang the songs, and more or less ran the whole show over the course of eleven acclaimed albums and a mind-boggling number of live performances. Therefore, it is more than fitting that the new album bears his name and picture on the cover. Nothing against Mallonee's mug, but the album covers of the first two incarnations where more fun. Especially the brilliant photo of an old train that, although surprisingly not derailed, lies motionless on its side half in the mud. Regardless, in the future no one will be able to mistake the Vigilantes of Love as anything but Bill Mallonee's considerable effort. As it should be. The train photo, however, was the perfect metaphor for Mallonee who has doggedly stayed on the tracks despite major label woes that would try to upturn them. He and the various incarnations of his band, have been ditched at least twice now by record labels, but they are far from clobbered yet. The new album cover, with Mallonee sharing a warm smile, shows more hope for the happier times that he should be enjoying in the future.

In this light and given that Mallonee admits to mood swings and depressive bouts, Audible Sigh is the happiest sounding set of songs the band has released to date. As good or better than his finest moments of last decade, Sigh is comfortably set in the camp of his previous material. Just combine the lush alt-country ramblings of 1998's To the Roof of the Sky with the rockier attitude of 1997's Slow Dark Train, and the logical conclusion is Audible Sigh. What it lacks in surprises in sound and content, it makes up for in the kind of consistent, yet diverse musicianship and solidly written songs fans have come to expect. Plus, the guest musicians and vocalists (Emmylou Harris, her drummer Brady Blade, Phil Madeira, Tammy Rogers, and Julie and Buddy Miller) read like a who's who of noteworthy, contemporary, countryish artists. Their contributions here befit their stature without overly altering the band's signature sound. Best of all, the continued consistency of Mallonee's songwriting craft still begs the question: will hell really freeze over before he writes a bad song?

The new and improved version also features three new songs that were not on the last two limited pressings. Of those, the album closer "Solar System" is worth the price alone. It's the kind of song, like Slow Dark Train's "Judas Skin," that perfectly captures Mallonee's penchant for bridging moody melancholies with clever lyrics:

         Well, put all your love where it hurts the most
         And expect a little visit from the Holy Ghost
         When your short wave dies and there's no one to listen
         Stars going cold in your solar system
         And I really love to see you like this
         The moonlight dripping off your finger tips...

Similarly, "Black Cloud O'er Me," is trademark Mallonee, mixing a healthy dose of the theology of the Fall of mankind with crystal clear shimmers of light and hope in our Saviour:

     Pride, she's a pit of snakes
     Reason, well she's still the devil's whore
     Though the cannonballs may fly and sabers baptize
     Turn the eyes of faith upon the Lord
     And some will shake off the sloth of faithlessness
     While others simply languish in their sleep
     Me...I just fight to stay awake
     Yeah, I've always had this black cloud over me.

With lyrics this honest and well crafted, it's no wonder the album's producer and Emmylou Harris's guitarist Buddy Miller has said, "The poetry and intelligence of Bill Mallonee's songs rival Dylan's." 

Regrettably, three songs from the previous version didn't make the cut this time. Although "Paralyzed" previously appeared on To the Roof of the Sky, "Hard Luck & Heart Attack" and "Your Part of the Story" are no longer included. However, as a consequence, the complete new song order just flows better this time out and makes for a stronger album from start to finish. What's more, Audible Sigh also includes several songs that rank among the best Mallonee has ever offered, including the lush duet ballad with Emmylou Harris called "Resplendent," the folk/blues on speed fury of "She Walks on Roses," and the confessional--straight-ahead--sing-along rocker of "Could Be a Whole Lot Worse." Overall, Mallonee's always artful metaphors still run thick with reflection and wisdom. The music still inspires foot-stomping when rocking and cuts to the soul when weeping. God is ultimately honored by this fetching collection. With songs this solid, Mallonee's train will continue rattling along--a bit beaten but not busted--for some time to come.

With all new artwork, three worthy new songs, a complete lyric sheet, and a chance to be charitable to your friends, purchasing and sharing multiple copies of Audible Sigh is not only recommended, but practically mandatory for the true fan.

Steven S. Baldwin   6/07/2000

The 1999 Vigilantes of Love release, 'Cross the Big Pond is also reviewed 
here.

Audible Sigh was a fine CD in its prerelease form (reviews here), and a little steeping time only improves it. The differences are easily found in the track listing: "Paralyzed," "Hard Luck and Heart Attack," and "Your Part of the Story" were dropped; "Now as the Train Pulls Away," "Black Cloud O'er Me," and "Solar System" were added; and the tracks were shuffled. The resulting CD is stronger, with smoother transitions and a better feel to the ear.

The band's manager, Lottman Schudde, had been excited about the prerelease incarnation of the album, saying it was the band's best shot at widespread fame to date. With the newer, more streamlined form, their chances only improve. This CD will please old fans and gather new ones, and few would argue that Mallonee and company are one of the most deserving bands around. With their grueling tour schedule, the Vigilantes are in constant touch with their fans, and that grassroots approach may finally pay off with the wide release of Audible Sigh.

If there is a downside to the CD, it can only be that the rockier live version of "Solar System" is superior to the mellower version found here. This track suffered from the departure of Kenny Hutson and his brilliant mandolin work, evident on tracks recorded earlier. To be sure, this is nitpicking of the highest order, but there it is. 

This CD is simply made for summer nights driving in the country, with the windows open or top down. Its easygoing, contemplative feel gently imparts the goodness of life, something we could all be reminded of from time to time.

Lisa Reid 6/11/2000


 
 
 

 

   
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