Pony Bradshaw writes literate story songs set in the Deep South, where he comes from and currently lives. He poetically depicts the precise details without shining them up. Bradshaw doesn’t romanticize the towns, woodlands, and people as much as he exposes their unvarnished reality for a higher purpose. The same is true for the way he puts the words to simple melodies whose hooks lie in the way they seem unfinished and compel the listener to wait for the next line.
That appeal can also be found in his rich baritone drawl. Bradshaw lets the words out slowly to give them a warm resonance. He’s a storyteller as much as he is a singer. He doesn’t strain for notes he cannot reach. Instead, he phrases his verses to add emphasis and drama to narratives about the people who inhabit the region. These aren’t stereotyped yokels but include the changing population of a region that doesn’t change as much as decay.
Consider the femme fatale of “Notes on a River Town”. Bradshaw describes her in imaginative language that suggests the complexity of influences that have affected Southern life: “Skin smelled just like opium spice / Teeth stained red with Lebanese wine / Long hair hangs in sweeps of oil / Blacker than a cypress pool.” References to opium, the Mideast, oil, resonate far beyond the particulars of the specific situation but allude to other issues (the opioid crises, rising cost of fuel) that have profoundly impacted the region. The mention of cypress trees connects what is there now to what was always there and always came from somewhere else originally.
In songs such as “Go Down, Appalachia” and the title track, his language becomes opaque as the linguistic oddities of Southern talk become more imagistic than a narrative with verses like: “Blackwater slags through the country / I smoked my pipe full of cured tobaccy / Tide she turns like gossip on the tongue / Need me a good gal, sweet potato.” The point becomes the wording itself—the dialect’s idioms reveal deeper truths about the mystery of it all by being enigmatic.
Almost all of the songs on North Georgia Rounder contain a reference to alcohol. Sometimes Bradshaw uses it as a way to celebrate (“Foxfire Wine”); the next one, he denigrates it as poison (“Mosquitos”), and in another song, its function is more ambiguous. Check “A Duffel, a Grip, and My D35”, where he begins with, “I’m headed back to Knoxville town / Where that homemade wine makes my belly growl.” There are many other mentions as well, including “What I wouldn’t do for a cold beer” in “A Free and Roving Mind” and “She drinks white wine, memento mori / Riesling room temp from a coffee cup” in “Safe in the Arms of Vernacular”. But the most explicit tribute can be found in his ode to “Holler Rose” whose chorus goes “Holler Rose the pious moonshiner / Holler Rose the pious moonshiner.” The contradiction in this song (of the title character being religious and sinful) reveals Bradshaw’s varied attitude towards drink.
Other topics include everything from the effect of the Gulf War on a kid growing up to the price of a prostitute to playing music at juke joints around the South. The common theme can be found in the complexity of the people and places depicted. Bradshaw’s not preaching or teaching as much as showing and telling. In a world of increasing homogenization, he reveals the jumbled absurdity of the South in all its confederate glory.