Album review: DEBORAH BONHAM – Reissues (Looking Back At The Moon/Spirit)

Deborah Bonham chatted to David Randall in March 2015, discussing her career and with tracks from several albums.  Plus she chose some of the tracks that have influenced her over the years.

DEBORAH BONHAM - Looking Back At The Moon

Sound Discs [Release date 28.04.17]

When I chatted to Deborah Bonham in March 2015, she told us about her early career and machinations with the label Carrere (home to early Saxon).  Now these early recordings – collected as Looking Back At The Moon and dating from 1985 to 1991 – allow us to form a more rounded picture of a great performer and a really nice lady.

Her debut album ‘For You And The Moon’ is poles apart from the latest version of DB – I wonder if the record company execs were trying to create a UK Benatar or even a Fiona?  Some contemporary cuttings in the CD liner suggests that might have been the case.  I sense like one or two ladies during this period (Judie Tzuke springs to mind) Deborah didn’t want to be typecast as a blonde bimbo, and rightly so.

In the liner note Deborah states that she didn’t want to completely release that first album and I sense she may be a little embarrassed by its eighties AOR pretensions.  She really shouldn’t be.

The title track and the other five tracks included are period pieces but most of all they demonstrate a great voice.  The best of these is ‘Heaven’ which reveals another great vocal performance along with the excellent ‘Bring On The Night’, ‘Pretender’ and ‘One Love’.  There’s a version of Peter Bardens’ ‘On The Air Tonight’ which Colin Blunstone has also covered.

The other tracks on the compilation are taken from demos for a mooted follow up album.  Because I have a soft spot for well played and sung eighties AOR, most of these tracks pass muster (even if the production work is dated) and it’s a shame that the whole of that first album wasn’t included for completeness and a second disc featured the unreleased demos.  I understand there are also pre-1985 demos with her nephew Jason on drums.  In addition, the later single ‘Perfect World’ might have also been included for completeness as it’s not easily available elsewhere.  ****

To complement this reissue Deborah’s latest album Spirit is available in expanded format with three additional tracks.  It makes you wonder why the upbeat ‘Lightning Ray’ was omitted from the original although ‘Bring Out The Joy’ and ‘My Life’ are somewhat introspective.  This is a definitive version if you haven’t already invested.  ****

Deborah Bonham is a much underrated singer songwriter who for too long lurked in the shadow of her late brother John and this family connection – at least in the early days – was both a blessing and a curse.

As our interview demonstrates she was also deterred from a solo career at the outset by John who was well aware of the chauvinistic nature of the business.  It’s also evident that early on in her career there was a lack of career direction and management and in the late-1980s she actually jumped roles and worked on artist contracts for several record labels.   On a more positive note, this experience helped Deborah wrestle back her rights from Carrere for those early recordings.

We are promised some of these older pieces when Deborah plays live this summer with Paul Rodgers (May 2017).  Let’s hope she gives them full rein as they certainly don’t fit her current blues rock profile.  This in itself may be an unfortunate pigeon-hole, because there is much more to her music than the blues. The current album ‘Spirit’ demonstrates this and also that she is a great interpreter of other people’s songs, such as ‘Painbirds’ which remains a highlight.

Perhaps Deborah needs to fully reconcile her eighties persona although for the moment the compilation is a great way of discovering her hidden gems.  A guilty pleasure maybe, but a pleasure nevertheless.

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

Album review (Spirit, original issue 2014 and Deborah’s track-by-track)

UK Tour (with Paul Rodgers)
05 May Glasgow, Clyde Auditorium
07 May Newcastle, City Hall
08 May Manchester, O2 Apollo
10 May Bristol, Colston Hall
12 May Plymouth, Pavilions
14 May Oxford, New Theatre
17 May Leicester, De Montfort Hall
19 May Sheffield, City Hall
20 May Nottingham, Royal Concert Hall
22 May Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend, Cliffs Pavilion
23 May Ipswich, Regent Theatre
25 May Portsmouth, Guildhall
27 May Birmingham, Symphony Hall
28 May London, Royal Albert Hall

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