Bonnie Hayes

Empty Sky

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This is where Bonnie Hayes gets her artistic dignity back. Although the San Francisco-based singer/songwriter had gotten a fair amount of notice in the early '90s for writing the best songs on Bonnie Raitt's Grammy-winning Nick of Time (including "Love Letter," included in a superior version here), her last release on her own had been 1987's mostly dismal major-label debut (and swan song) Bonnie Hayes. (It's not hard to read the opening "My Brave Face" -- not the McCartney/Costello song -- as being in part an apology for that artistic debacle.) Empty Sky is several hundred times better, and almost ranks with her first two indie albums, 1982's Good Clean Fun and 1984's Brave New Girl. Those albums' producer, Steve Savage, returns for this set, and his simple, unaffected production style suits the personal songs beautifully. The songs are remarkable in themselves, particularly the jazzy "Hieroglyphics" and the soaring "The Moment of True Feeling," one of several songs that come across as nakedly autobiographical. The simple, lovely "Bottomless," an ode to Hayes' young daughter Lily, is possibly the most beautiful song Hayes has ever written. The songs are so good, in fact, that the inclusion of a fine but pointless cover of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" is something of a mystery. The arrangements feature Hayes' keyboards and vocals (both of which sound better than ever) supported by a basic rhythm section and the unobtrusive guitar of Hayes' younger brother Chris, guitarist and songwriter for Huey Lewis & the News. After the over-produced Bonnie Hayes, Empty Sky is a revelation and a more than welcome comeback.

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