David Dondero’s seventh studio album doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to painting a proper picture of the trials and tribulations of the modern troubadour. The title alone, # Zero with a Bullet, leaves little to the imagination as to where Dondero sees himself in the “business,” but like his biggest influence, Townes Van Zandt, the Duluth, MN native’s knack for crafting anguished, poetic, wickedly funny, country-blues songs of near constant quality seems destined to find some kind of mainstream success one of these days, or not. Dondero seems more content with his place on the road this time around, and there are moments of great wit and wildness on #Zero with a Bullet that suggest a newfound comfort with his cult status. Opener “Jesus from 12 to 6” offers up a dutifully fiery backbeat to complement the story of a homeless man’s, schizophrenic religious fervor, the Guthrie-esque, banjo-led “Job Boss” follows a workplace revolt, and the self-deprecating title cut follows an effortless in-the-pocket groove that will be sure to make it onto at least a few 2010 year’s-best singles lists. As with any Dondero offering, there are plenty of characters (girls that were “meaner than an acre full of snakes,” queens on bikes, and broken men finding redemption on the streets of Laramie, WY), but the character that always speaks the loudest is Dondero himself, and with each new collection of songs, and each desperate, quavering vowel and consonant, he sinks his hands deeper into the highway cement, leaving his mark and moving on to the next town with his head held high.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger