Garage Sale Vinyl
Garage Sale Vinyl: Karla Bonoff

Garage Sale Vinyl: Karla Bonoff

Karla Bonoff / Columbia Records / 1977

Quite literally, it absolutely was beat to shit. But in 2019, the chances of finding other copies in town (quickly) on vinyl were pretty slim. Truth be told, I had to have it. And I certainly wasn’t gonna dick around waiting on an Amazon order for a week and a half.

As a diligent teenage student of Jackson, Bonnie, James, Carly, and Warren during the late ’70s, I paid careful attention to album liner notes — the Wikipedia of my generation. As a result, I’d become extremely familiar with such prominent studio session players of the day as Andrew Gold, Kenny Edwards, David Lindley, Waddy Wachtel, Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel, and ol’ Sneaky Pete Kleinow. I also began noticing the names of certain songwriters popping up in the credits of my favorite records: J.D. Souther, Randy Newman, John Prine, and a So-Cal gal named Karla Bonoff.

Given her multiple songwriting contributions on my growing cherished collection of Linda Ronstadt LPs, I already was familiar with several Bonoff tunes prior to the release of her 1977 self-titled debut. In the ensuing years, I’d score Bonoff records in various configurations. But tragically, by 2019, I only could account for my iTunes copy of Karla Bonoff.

It was about that time when the GF and I ventured out to a nearby cineplex to catch the Ronstadt biopic, The Sound of My Voice. One of the most engaging aspects of the film was the candid interview clips with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Ry Cooder, Dolly Parton, Don Henley — and Karla Bonoff. Damnit, I gotta locate THAT record — on vinyl!

Just a couple of days later, I arrived at the used record concession of my local flea market — a groovy, indoor, air-conditioned joint run by a sweetheart of a guy named Frank. Dude, I’m desperate! After poking around the shop for a few, Frank discovered ONE copy of Karla Bonoff. It was in such pitiful condition, Frank GAVE it to me — for FREE.

Fortunately, I learned a little trick back in my days working at record stores — back when I was young and super-cute. If you play a record wet, even if it’s been ravaged (like the Bonoff record was), often, it will play fine. And it worked! Sure, the LP still had some warm crackle, but as long as I hosed it down prior to each spin, it performed nicely. But that ritual became tiresome PDQ, so I’ve since located and purchased three additional better-quality vinyl copies — one of which I traveled to South Carolina to acquire.

Produced by celebrated multi-instrumentalist Kenny Edwards, the record benefited from Bonoff’s exposure as the opener on the Jackson Browne tour. Along with receiving modest airplay of the sunny-sounding breakup single, “I Can’t Hold On,” the album ultimately achieved gold status.

The session cats were many of the usual suspects: Wachtel, Sklar and Kunkel, as well as Bonoff’s longtime Bryndle bandmate, Wendy Waldman. Heck, even Linda Ronstadt fled the governor’s mansion and Glenn Frey finished feuding with Felder long enough to make guest vocal appearances. Yet, Bonoff managed most of the heavy lifting, providing all the lead vocals in addition to some backing vocals, piano, and acoustic guitar.

What’s particularly wonderful about Karla Bonoff’s artistry is the purity of her voice and the honesty of her songs. Bonoff simply can’t lie. The urgent and lonely-feeling, piano-driven, “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” is an epic album opener — arguably more powerful than the Ronstadt version released a year prior. Stripped bare, the piano / vocal, “Lose Again,” is a transparent confession of dysfunctional love — and it remains one of Bonoff’s mightiest compositions. Also covered in 1977 by Bonnie Raitt, “Home” is a charming, country-flavored delight. Equally noteworthy, “If He’s Ever Near” reflects a longing for love, while “Falling Star” reveals authentic heartache — and it sparkles like a diamond. Despite her notoriety as an acclaimed songwriter, one of the record’s tallest standouts, “Faces in the Wind,” came from outside writer Craig Safan. However, Bonoff succeeds in owning it famously.

In sum, Karla Bonoff was (and is) a beautiful, superb piece of work. Amazingly, 46 years following its initial release, it hasn’t lost its luster. And it still sounds fresh — even when played wet.

(5/5) ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

photo by Christopher Long

Karla Bonoff Track List

SIDE ONE

  1. Someone To Lay Down Beside Me (Bonoff) 4:06
  2. I Can’t Hold On (Bonoff) 3:15
  3. Lose Again (Bonoff) 3:42
  4. Home (Bonoff) 4:19
  5. Faces in the Wind (Craig Safan) 3:07

SIDE TWO

  1. Isn’t It Always Love (Bonoff) 3:08
  2. If He’s Ever Near (Bonoff) 3:17
  3. Flying High (Steve Ferguson) 3:29
  4. Falling Star (Bonoff) 4:30
  5. Rose in the Garden (Bonoff) 4:43

Karla Bonoff


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