The first thought to come to mind after listening to singer-songwriter PJ Bond is that his music is genuine and down to earth. Having spent the better half of the last five years in a nomadic existence – wandering, perceiving different places, writing songs and playing shows – the release of Where Were You? is a rare experience of permanence for the man from New Jersey. With support from his fellow New Brunswick brethren, Communipaw, PJ Bond has released an album of folk-rock/country-esque songs that is a window into his personal perspectives and experiences.
I can definitely appreciate music that has been meticulously crafted with the benefit of production technology, although there is always the risk of going overboard and having the album sound superficial. Where Were You? runs no risk of falling into this category. There is nothing contrived about what you will hear from Mr. Bond and Communipaw. If you close your eyes, they could just as well be in the room with you, playing a personal show. There are no fancy effects, no artificial enhancements; this is just a bunch of guys performing in a way that comes across as totally authentic, and I totally dig it.
PJ Bond has a tendency to write lyrics in a way that come across as though he’s just telling a story, or having a conversation in plain language. It sounds very natural because he’s not trying to force rhymes or stick to a definite rhythm, although there are moments where it comes across as effortless poetry. I instantly appreciated the line “So I took her away for a while ’til she figured out I didn’t have much/Some torn clothes and wanderlust” from The Better Option. He writes about real things that are personal to him, but may evoke a sense of nostalgia or understanding from the listener too. The opening track Everglades tells us about a relationship forming with a girl who is abused by her boyfriend, and despite the heavy subject matter, Bond slips in some dark humour to keep us afloat: “I could take him down to the Everglades for you.”
Aside from most tracks being pretty heavily doused in nostalgia, like the album’s closer, We Were Just Kids, I think the strongest theme here is about relationships. PJ sings about romantic relationships with a rocky break up in Broad Street, consoles a friend who has lost a parent in For J. And let’s not forget about his relationship with himself, because that’s very important. In Hellfire he speaks of his internal struggles: “Sometimes I’m a good man and sometimes I’m not/ So I don’t know if they’ll bury me.” We’re even told about relationships with objects, like that time “where they smashed all the windows of my ’93 Plymouth/And took all my things” in Neighbourhoods. Didn’t you read the signs saying not to leave personal belongings in your car, PJ?
I have to admit, on first listen I think I was subconsciously biased towards albums that have been finely polished in the studio. That’s probably not something I should confess. Anyway, this album definitely convinced me to look past all that and just focus on the foundations, and how they are developed. Don’t get me wrong, Where Were You? isn’t rough around the edges, it just doesn’t bother with frivolities. And that’s great; less is more. PJ Bond can safely rely on his ability to craft personal, enjoyable songs that come across in a totally genuine voice. As the radio-friendly ’87 Broadcast tells us, the radio has certainly kept him honest.