[9 September 2008]
A former protégé of Low’s Alan Sparhawk, fellow Minnesotan Haley Bonar has clearly learned how to observe the value of subtlety, allowing her songs to breathe and stretch and slowly resonate through the presence of quiet spaces. While her previous outings were all rather hushed affairs, though, Big Star (her fourth album) places her songs in comparatively larger settings, opening up her sound bigger instrumental flourishes that pushes them comfortably into the realm of alt.country. It is an atmosphere that suits Bonar nicely, providing her plainspoken vocals—think Shawn Colvin or Mary Lou Lord with more twang—and solid knack for slow-burning melodies with an appropriate backdrop. It does, however, end up creating a somewhat difficult, though not at all unlistenable, tension, as Bonar’s usual tendency towards skeletal compositions restrains the pop ambition inherent in these songs. A few of the sparser tunes here (“May Day”, “Tiger Boy”) unfortunately end up hamstrung as a result. But just as often, as on the richly atmospheric title track or the lovely piano lullaby “Bag”, Big Star proves that Bonar’s refinement of her sound is on the right track, if not quite all the way there yet.