Just like NASCAR's ten-driver Chase For The Championship, time
is running out to crown a winner of "Best CD Of The Year"
in my book. The competition is fierce with a select few records
making the cut and vying for the title. And just like Jeremy
Mayfield's win at Richmond in September secures him the final
spot in the Quest For The Cup, David Dondero seals his
fate with Live At The Hemlock. Let's see what sort of strategy
earns him the victory and places him in the chase.
Dondero revs the motor and hints at what's to come in the pace
laps of "Intro" where he introduces his drummer (Chris
D) and hints at the frantic banter that's yet to come. The
duo takes the green flag with "Living And The Dead"
and "Ashes On The Highway" from 2003's The Transient
and sets a furious pace with his "hardcore folk".
Every song has an interesting story with this guy, and he uses
real life to tune the lyrical motor to perfection. After a caution
flag for the intensely dramatic "Boulevard Of Broken Hearts
and some banter between D and Dondero, he takes the restart
in first place with the masterful "Pre-Invasion Jitters",
possibly the most biting and blunt political tune I've heard
in a long time. Possibly since Woody Guthrie. They've
obviously made the right moves in the pits as "The Real
Tina Turner" keeps them in the lead with the high-octane
steady rhythm (after some more between song antics where Dondero
and D get in some sort of drum-stick throwing bumpin' and bangin'
incident and "feud" that plays itself out for the
Now you can't lead the race the whole way, and you can fall
into a rhythm and ride for a while to make that late charge
to the end. Dondero does just that on the next few tracks; the
personal "If You Break My Heart", "Motion Picture
Song" and its easy handling groove, and the high octane
commentary of "Chainsaw Preacher", which includes
Dondero mimicking the snare drum when D has a problem with it.
Again, in between the songs, the mayhem on stage and the interaction
between the artists and the crowd make you feel part of the
action (hey, rubbin's racin', right?). No wonder this guy has
a cult following as these shows have got to be a blast.
There's nothing more blue collar than paying homage to a guy
who build roads on "Song For The Civil Engineer".
Dondero starts to make his move back to the front on "Gotta
Get Back East", a request from the audience that he said
he hasn't played in a long time. He mashes the gas with the
speedy "Michael Ranes" and its tale of him and a drug
dealing buddy. It's the same sense of matter of fact, no holes
barred storytelling and gritty, yet intricate playing that puts
him at the front of the pack along with the likes of Craig
Ross, Bob Mould or Spot. He takes another
spot on the track with a brilliant outside pass on "Call
Me "D"", a witty number about different pronunciations
for words in different parts of the country (the story behind
this song is absolutely insane). He holds on to second place
for a spell with the confessional song about cheating on a lover,
"You Shouldn't Leave A Lover Alone Too Long". He retakes
the lead with the set closing "The Waiter", an 800
horsepower tune about a waiter (whom he knew) getting jumped
on the street by some thugs and he stabs one guy with a corkscrew.
Then there's a huge pile up in the middle of the song when D
falls out of the kit and goes after Dondero (or some sort of
chaos). When they restart the song, Dondero keeps the pace up
and takes the checkered flag by furiously pounding the tune
This record is a surprise winner indeed. His other releases
have been fulfilling, but I think there's just something about
"being there" that really adds another dimension
like going to the races. And I feel confident that David Dondero
will place somewhere in the top five when all is said and done
as the more I listen, the more I like. Tune in later to see
the Championship results.
2. Living And The Dead
3. Ashes On The Highway
4. Boulevard Of Broken Hearts, Busted Dreams, Shattered Wills,
Booze And Pills
5. Pre-Invasion Jitters
6. The Real Tina Turner
7. If You Break My Heart
8. Motion Picture Song
9. Chainsaw Preacher
10. Song For The Civil Engineer
11. Gotta Get Back East
12. Michael Ranes
13. Call Me "D"
14. You Shouldn't Leave A Lover Alone Too Long
15. The Waiter
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