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David Dondero
Live At The Hemlock
Future Farmer

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 whole record).

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 home.

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…just 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.

-tom topkoff

Track Listing:

1. Intro
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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