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Cathy Bonner - Letter to America (Rideout Records)

The current musical climate which lauds solo female Country & Western singers has made stars of Leanne Rhymes and Shania Twain, despite the obvious vacuousness of much of what they do. This particular marketing niche is one that Cathy Bonner could fill, without the help of big labels, like those of her contemporaries.
Despite being only her second offering album-wise - and on little known Rideout Records - it presents a commendable challenge to the female C&W heavyweights. One of the most noticeable things about this album is that it is extremely difficult to extricate the artist's origins, even if the influences are fairly evident. Right from the start "Letters from America" seems unmistakeably saturated in Americana, to the point that one would hardly guess that the writer/singer of these songs grew up in Northern Ireland. There is a thread of duality running throughout the album and there are opaque shades of Irish singer-songwriter mode audible. From the road movie feel of 'Hotel' to the trashcan Jesus postulations of 'True Believer'; Bonner can sound like Emmy-Lou Harris one moment and Mary Black the next.
Each song meanders along the Country spectrum with mellow slide guitar sounds, blues ballads and mainstream country rock. However, Bonner can slip into glib predictability and themes like the girl-done-wrong-by-travelling-Jake-type-Casanova and the 'Jolene'-style lamentations of 'I'm Not Afraid' can seem hackneyed. Much of what she does best is evidenced in Nancy Griffith-style ballads like 'Strong Love' and 'Letter to America'.
Despite traces of Irishness, it is the external influences which seem to dominate each song. Vocally strong, Bonner writes commercially viable American country ballads tinged with a traditional Irish sound. Definitely more palatable than Shania or Leanne, and a must if you're a fan of Country and Western.

by Sinead Gleeson.