Bill Mallonee was the leader of the Athens, Georgia-based Vigilantes of Love, a band that spent the ’90s crafting a series of terrific records. Early advocate Peter Buck left his mark on the band’s jangle pop sound, producing 1992’s Killing Floor. But for my money the band hit its creative apex with the alt-country flavored Audible Sigh, produced by the great Buddy Miller and featuring backing vocals from his wife Julie as well as Emmylou Harris. The record was well-received but not wildly successful from a commercial standpoint. VOL put together one more record before calling it a day.
These days Mallonee travels the country performing mostly solo dates, his passion for performing and songwriting seemingly undiminished. He’s issued a couple of fairly low-profile solo albums as well. Now Paste Records looks to up his visibility with this collection. For those who have been paying close attention, Perfumed Letter includes five songs from last year’s Fetal Position and seven of more recent vintage. Several former Vigilantes are also along for the ride.
A Brit-pop influence emerges on tracks like the opening “She’s So Liquid,” with its “Strawberry Fields”-like Mellotron sound. The title track is inventive, mature pop of the first order. The upbeat “Extraordinary Girl” is excellent as well. Mallonee pays tribute to Pet Sounds on “Two Become One.” And he playfully reminds us that he also has a significant following in the Christian rock crowd on tracks like “Wintergreen.” “Been sleeping at Gethsemane / Got Mother Mary and the rosary,” he sings. “You had secrets and I had baggage / Together we decided to unpack it / Dreamed a dream now you’re laughing at it / You’re just a girl in a leather jacket.” Throughout, Mallonee’s songwriting remains strong, smart and engaging.
If you’re just now discovering Mallonee’s work, the bad news is you’ve got some catching up to do. The good news is Perfumed Letter is a good place to start and will likely whet your appetite for more.