On his debut album, Sudden Opera, Pony Bradshaw paints a moody Southern Gothic world full of regret, redemption, loneliness, desire, and heaps of biblical references. A military brat who developed a fondness for literature and the restless soul of a drifter, Bradshaw bounced around through the early part of his adulthood, eventually finding a steady place in North Georgia, where in his early thirties he began playing guitar and writing his first songs. The relative lateness of his musical pursuits meant that he had already experienced a significant portion of life and achieved a certain level of maturity to apply to his songwriting. He also had a pretty great voice well-suited to his gutsy blend of country, blues, and rock. He established himself on the Southern songwriter circuit, put together a self-released album, and eventually earned his way onto the roster of veteran folk and roots label Rounder Records. This is how at age 38, a rookie songwriter named Pony (real name James) came to make his debut album in 2019 with all the depth and weary fortitude of a veteran act. In terms of material, Sudden Opera has a lived-in feel to it that gives songs like the plaintive "Josephine" and the thoughtful "Gaslight Heart" a warmth and approachability even as Bradshaw lets it all hang out emotionally. On "Jehovah," he delivers his incantations with a novelistic wordiness and the staccato rhythms of a rapper, chewing up the dark country landscape with great appetite. Though a dynamic singer and literate wordsmith, Bradshaw's music is pretty standard country-rock fare, and the contemporary grit-neutral patina given to it by his Grammy-winning production team smooths out some of the edges that might have helped its arrangements jump out a bit more. Still, Sudden Opera makes a case for creative late bloomers, as Bradshaw arrives on the scene seemingly in full bloom with plenty to say.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger