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Mike Bones - The Sky Behind the Sea

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Artist: Mike Bones

Album: The Sky Behind the Sea

Label: The Social Registry

Review date: Dec. 6, 2007

Mike Bones (nee Strallow) has successfully, if casually, operated within a network of friends and believers scattered among the more thoughtful circles of Brooklyn’s rock scene. Those same circles support Oneida, Oakley Hall, Jah Division and most of the local talent on The Social Registry. It’s not much of a surprise to see these folks on one another’s records, and occasionally on one another’s stage. Bones holds it down for Soldiers of Fortune, a side-project featuring Truax, Papa Crazee, Kid Millions, and recording engineer Barry London, who also serves as co-owner of the Ocropolis, a studio helmed by Oneida. Their face-shredding volume and propensity for high-energy, whiskey-drinkin’ rock and roll belie a history of shared musical experience, and beyond that, a level of camaraderie that seals it in ways that hearken to the most bro-filled, supportive, easygoing nights of one’s life.

It must be that sense of support, then, that has allowed Bones to steer away from that safety net on his debut solo album, The Sky Behind the Sea, choosing instead to channel heartfelt and lonesome nights of the soul. He projects the weary, fallen visage of a skate rat Townes van Zandt, of a Leonard Cohen chained to the desk of some temp job in the Conde Nast building. The music he’s written is stormy, its sighing pauses instilling an uncertain finality, but also an unfailing hope despite itself.

The music of Cass McCombs walks the same lonely streets as Bones, but that artist wears enough clanging armor that you’ll never miss him in the crowd. Bones’ songs and demeanor linger in the shadows a bit more, somewhere nearby to where Chris Brokaw might be found reading a book. Like Brokaw, Bones is a guitar hero inside and out, master apprentice of a steel-eyed, determined blues first informed by punk, not the sallow, honeyed agony seeping out of our most emotionally isolated singer-songwriters. His success in finding a dirge-like way to bridge the two, one which amplifies the intricacies of the pain in the crossover, is rare; its chords ring with noble, chivalrous intent.

Most of the songs here live and die on his sad, bending voice and careful arrangements, and rest against the mechanical heartbeat of its centerpiece, “Town Crier.” It’s here where Bones’ determination finds an alliterative counterpoint in the music, a ghost ride through empty highways just before dawn, floating in an early morning fog of exhaustion and despair. It grounds The Sky Behind the Sea in a way that’s eluded most records of 2007; the end result is one of the most memorable debuts in years, an album for all of those who go without a soul to rely on or a shoulder to cry on.

By Doug Mosurock

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