There is a discipline of Southern heritage deeply interested in the art of language, and not just for the stories and truths it may help tell, but writing and talking just for the sake of it, and finding beauty and wisdom in the words themselves, and how they relate to the Southern American experience. We’re talking about the realm of William Faulkner and other masters that the modern world has so unfortunately moved on from for the frenetic priority of now.
North Georgia native Pony Bradshaw is uninterested and your priorities though. Instead, he’s allured by the idea of resurrecting this proud art form in the musical realm with snapshot stories full of Southern vernacular and worthy aphorisms. It is mostly Americana in sound, but most importantly, it’s strongly literary, aided in this pursuit by a compelling voice reminiscent in some respects to the elusive Willis Alan Ramsey.
This is not a new pursuit for Pony Bradshaw. Patient and attentive listeners have already been enjoying Pony’s back catalog, including 2021’s Calico Jim, which focused a bit more on character, similar to how his new one, North Georgia Rounder, focuses a bit more on moments and places. Moreover, the new album finds more involvement from the music—a bit more tempo, groove, and volume to make Pony’s exquisitely crafted words more accessible to the audience.
You can tell by the titles of the songs—“Safe in the Arms of Vernacular,” “Kindly Turn the Bed Down, Drusilla”—that this is not some catchy music to liven up your work day. This is music to ponder and reflect upon. But Pony also makes sure to not completely forsake the importance of an enjoyable listening experience, which he delivers in the equally well-written, but more infectiously gratifying songs like “Holler Rose” and “Foxfire Wine.”
Pony Bradshaw’s heart may reside in North Georgia where the southernmost reaches of the Appalachian region reside, and this may be where the lion’s share of this album’s material finds its inspiration. But other locales also play a role. Knoxville, Louisiana, and Arkansas make appearances—the latter where the album was recorded incidentally, at Fellowship Hall Sound in Little Rock.
In certain ways, North Georgia Rounder works like a travelogue of places captured in moments. You can hear how Pony Bradshaw’s experience as a traveling musician plays into the writing as he comes and goes, making acquaintances and observances while soaking up cultural references like a sponge, and the pull of home life always drawing him back. The exploration of places and people for their idiosyncratic differences also gives him a sharper perspective on his home from having viewed it from a distance, and through the eyes of others.
As esoteric and involved as all of this may sound, this album does not fall delinquent on making sure you’re entertained. It labors to find and expose the appeal in the ideas it broaches, and the music that it presents. Such a literary approach to music will never appeal to everyone. But on North Georgia Rounder, Pony Bradshaw draws on his passion for the medium to make it appealing nonetheless.
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