Bonner Black Is Not Your Girl

One Of Nashville’s Best

Tennessee native Bonner Black is one of the most underrated and talented songwriters in Nashville. Her unique blend of “Americana Pop” combines the acoustic elements that Nashville loves with a splash of modern pop and a lyrical style that is more realistic and thoughtful than the painful constrains of Nashville's writing machine.

I first saw her perform at City Winery for a “Girls of Nashville” show in March of 2020 and have been a follower ever since. I love the tales she weaves, the vulnerability she displays in her writing, and the way she uses Social Media to highlight not only her music, but her quirky sense of humor and what its like to live in Middle Tennessee. Here’s a quick review of her latest two tracks - let’s check it out:

I'm Not Your Girl is one of the better examples of how to build a track that I’ve ever heard. It’s in G, about 155 and starts off with some great visuals over a sparse arrangement of an acoustic, a Rhodes giving hints of the melody, and a buried downstroke riff that starts to build the tension. She and producer Jake Ohlbaum take their time with the build and playfully pull you along for 1:02 before the first chorus hits you. When it does, that four-on-the-floor pattern is perfect - you don’t need anything else - and the hook sets in deep. I LOVE how wordy the chorus is, every line is a perfectly delivered uppercut to the “less is more” mantra that Nashville loves to preach (in addition to 3 minute songs, 8 bar solos and repetitive bridges). The second verse keeps that kick going, with a nice change halfway through that changes again with the Pre. Note how well they added just enough instrumentation to keep working the build, while dealing with the three different kick patterns used. Great arrangement, great production! With the second chorus, the accents they hit are brilliant and you can feel your heartrate rising as the chorus quickly becomes an anthem. It’s the perfect launch for a bridge that continues the rush of emotion Bonner is singing about, and that also brings back those accents from the rhythm section that are perfectly placed. As we get to the final chorus, everything explodes in full tilt and her vocals are spot on - from the lead delivery to the backgrounds. It’s not hard to visualize a massive crowd of women singing this chorus along with her.

Just like the last song, Catch 22 starts off with a lyrical visual that stops you in your tracks. We’re in D, about 84 BPM, and starting out with her vocals and a gentle electric tone. The story is deeply personal, sensual and heartbreaking. The full band doesn’t drop in until after the first chorus, and that’s the way it should be against the backdrop of these lyrics. As the band comes in, I love the mix that Jake employs to slightly bury some of those leading lines that keep pulling the thread. Well done, sir. From a form standpoint, the back half of the chorus is the best part for me. The first half sets up the emotion, but the back half, with its change of delivery and cadence, brings the point home. With the bridge, its quicker delivery helps to imply the tension and pain of the situation. Unlike “I’m Not Your Girl,” the band takes a back seat to the lyrics and story, and that’s exactly the way it should be. There’s no solo or feature in this track - it doesn’t need it. The tones, mix and instrumentation are exceptional, and staying perfectly in the lane of previous songs like “Take Me On” and my favorite, “Light Me Up.”

In a world of boring 3 minute songs built around tired chord progressions and old tropes, Bonner is a breathe of fresh air. Both of these songs clock in around four minutes and would fall apart if edited to what the industry would want them to be. The song and its story will always be more important than the silly rules of Nashville and LA, and Bonner and Jake have definitely figured that out. There's a difference between listening to music and experiencing it, and Bonner's writing helps you do the latter. We need more of this, and Bonner deserves to be on the biggest stage with that select group of true artists who have been able to achieve mass success. Can’t wait to see her perform again soon.

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