Narissa Bond is part of a deep-rooted, diverse local scene centered around folk music and singer/songwriter traditions. Born in a small Texan town called Beaumont -- she's lived, taught, and played around here for as long as I can remember. Point of order, when I first started the Antonym, I made a note to review whatever new record she put out. It took a bit, but here we are.
She's recorded five full-length albums in total: 1996 marked her debut with the more traditional, harmony-heavy, "A Free Spirit Can't Run Fast in High Heels." 1999's "Knocking at the Doorway to My Soul" moved her into more contemporary fare cementing comparisons to Joni Mitchell, but also reaching for something you might expect to hear from the Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman, Carole King, or Joan Armatrading.
In 2002 she released, "Between Two Rivers," a more spiritually centered work than previous offerings, recalling to my ear at times something like Christian-Contemporary artist Margaret Becker or even occasionally evoking gospel legend, CeCe Winans. "Three Words," put out in 2008, pushed her into jazz territory. After which, she began a decade long hiatus on new recordings, breaking it this year with "Rhythm of Love."
The new record is heavily collaborative, which makes sense considering the relationships she's built over twenty-plus years in this scene. That Bond can pick up a phone and call on musicians of this caliber is a testament to her staying-power. These songs seem to effortlessly fuse all of her previous styles, while at the same time tapping into new territory with samba-kissed rhythms, touches of horns in the background, with complex jazz arrangements and a taste of country Americana in spots. The title track features David Mills, local guitar god Woody Norton, and Charlton Phaneuf, with Dale Lazar on percussion. Telling the story of her reaction to 2017's tragic murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville by a Nazi, she decries the horror of the time while simultaneously refusing to give into the darkness it brought: "Not gonna let you steal my joy, not gonna let you take my light."
Other highlights include: "Walk thru the World with an Open Heart" -- tapping the many talents of another local group, Who We Are Not (with Joe Talley and Pamela-Jo Sward.) "Beyond the End of Time," which manages to summon a nearly Spanish feel to it. Other musicians taking turn in lending a hand include Rich Mossman, Holly Kirsten, Cody Thornton, Rob Oliver, and Gwen Frederick. The whole record is beyond solid, musically, and sits pleasantly on my playlist on a sunny afternoon.
. . .
While I had been aware of Narissa's oeuvre for a good while, I didn't actually meet her in person until some time around 2011 at the now long-defunct Kerouac Cafe. The spot hosted an uncommonly good open mic that I was lucky enough to take part in for a bit before they sadly closed their doors. I was playing something in some made-up tuning, as I often do. After the show she asked me what key i was in, and then bemusedly shook her head when I told her I had no idea.
In the time I've known her, she's generally been a light in the darkness. Not that that should give you pause as to the objectivity of this review -- if I didn't care for this record, it would have ended up as a sentence in another piece just mentioning the release. I generally don't bother with bad reviews unless you're backed by a label with a ton of money or you're just an asshole who also happens to suck eggs -- I have too much to do to waste time on lousy music. Happily, "Rhythm of Love" is good stuff.
Bond has been through many ups and down, and the last few years have witnessed some health struggles. We're lucky to have this music, and we're lucky to have her.
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Words by Jeff Hewitt