Tracy Bonham

Down Here

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Tracy Bonham took a gutsy move when she decided to wait nearly five years to deliver her second album, Down Here. That prolonged time away from alt-rock's spotlight is dangerous for any nascent artist, but it was especially risky in the second half of the '90s when the genre moved from being in the limelight to being considered passé, even by critics. Perhaps she truly needed the time off to prepare an album that shook off any of the lingering PJ Harvey comparisons that her debut Burdens of Being Upright received, but it did result in the album virtually being ignored by a wide audience upon its release in the spring of 2000. It didn't deserve that fate, but it's hard to see how it wouldn't have received it given that it isn't really a commercial effort even though it is an artistic breakthrough. Teaming with producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake -- the duo musicians always turn to when they want to turn a new, complicated leaf -- Bonham crafted a record that takes its time, has a fairly stately pace, weird psychedelic flourishes, and little of the histrionics that characterized her first record. It's not just that the sound has changed, but Bonham's songwriting has gotten stronger; the tunes don't just boast stronger hooks, but they're more subtly crafted, flowing nicely from verse to chorus to bridge and back again. Though it occasionally sounds a little out of time -- it's a record that would have made more sense in 1997 than in 2000 -- Down Here is a record that reveals much of its strengths only with repeated listens, and that's part of the problem. Apart from the hardcore fans that have stuck with her for five years, not many people will give it a chance. If they do, they'll find that it's a smart, assured, and distinctive second effort that is a quantum leap past her debut.

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