It’s often hard for children of successful musicians to become successful themselves and yet after a decade of working as an in-demand songwriter both abroad (Raquel Castro, Morgan Evans) and in Nashville (“Circles” from Jana Kramer and “Lights Down Low” from Jessie James Decker - both radio singles at the writing of this review), Alyssa Bonagura is ready to take the world by storm with her diverse just-released new album Road Less Traveled.
The album opens with a pair of exquisite tracks. The Sheryl Crow-like “Comin’ Up From The Underground” and lilt-y ballad “Imagination.” The former track is a perfect tempo-filled, arena ready album opener while “Imagination” has an earthy, Celtic melodic underpinning which recalls the great records of Patty Griffin and Mary Chapin Carpenter. An “edgier” folks-y country song which suggests Bonagura is anything but a pop tart. As if to hammer this point home, this album’s first single “Rebel,” showcases a powerful artist with one of the best lyrics of 2016 . “Rebel” is a song with a chorus refrain “I’m a rebel with an unknown plan, I’m a believer trying to figure out who I am.” This is the kind of simple power ballad (which features piano, strings, acoustic bass and guitar) which constantly poured out of the Brill Building in NYC all those years ago. It’s also one of five songs here which are solo compositions from the multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer.
As an instrumentalist, Bonagura plays 8 different instruments in addition to all the vocals of “Crying,” a haunting, harmonica-laced ode to loneliness that can be found anywhere, even if you’re a popular figure. It’s a showcase for how depression can hit even the people who seemingly have it all together. The title track is another introspective piece about finding your own path, even if it’s one that’s not the same path as everyone else. This is a song for the awkward and the independent amongst us. It’s an artist’s song and one that certainly feels like a mission statement from Alyssa Bonagura herself.
The sweet “I Wanna Marry You” is another song that’s as simple and saccharine sweet as Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs” and that’s what’s striking about Alyssa Bonagura’s work throughout the duration of Road Less Traveled. She’s working on a level that few “debut” artists work on. This is a record which deserves to be listened to over and over and over again. This is a record from an artist at the top of her game.
One more thing to note, while you could buy the digital package at iTunes, I suggest getting the physical package of Road Less Traveled. Packaged in a DVD-sized slip covered case, the CD comes with 12 Tarot-like cards two which feature the track listing and musician info and thank you’s while the other 10 are individual cards with lyrics on one side and artistic designs and photos on the other. This is a strikingly creative body of work.