Where Were You?Xtra Mile Recordings / Black Numbers Records
By Cole Faulkner
I’ve always had a soft spot for Philadelphia, PA acoustic troubadour PJ Bond. Sure, his debut album, You Didn’t Know I Was Alphabetical, relied heavily on the strength of the opening track, but that track landed on a heck of a lot of my playlists. It’s been a lengthy five year road, but Bond has finally returned for his second kick at the can with his latest full length, Where Were You?. Compared with past works, considerable effort has gone into making his sophomore effort a very complete offering. Balancing catchy choruses and heartfelt delivery with PJ Bond’s breezy, folk-fired americana, the album unveils a balance of small town life and heartfelt ambitions.
Never in a rush to reach for more than what is right in front of him, Bond channels the essence of an American Joel Plaskett. Modest storytelling through an honest man’s lens makes for a very intuitive listen that spans casual rock n’ roll (“Broad Street”) and a wispy 60’s folk heart (“The Better Option”). Opener “Everglades” introduces the latter with the gentle invitation of backing “oo-ooo” vocals pushing the song into upbeat melody and lasting memory. Meanwhile, those like “87 Broadcast” channel a retro vibe circa American Taxi and Gaslight Anthem. But it’s the breezy, loosely sing-along moments of songs like “The Better Option” that really set Where Were You? up with some staying power.
What Were You?’s only real drawback lies in the somewhat overly tame execution. Between album highlights, PJ Bond can sometimes revert to a relatively passive state. While the songwriting is highly intensional and the lyrics of smalltown lifestyles generally flourish, it can get washed away in some of the more casual instrumental moments like the light country twangers “Calm In The Corner” or “Hellfire.” The most successful of the reserved moments actually resides in the album’s most minimal and intimate sessions. Purely acoustic strummers like “For J” actually amplify the spotlight just on the power of their words alone. These incredibly personal moments speak volumes to PJ Bond’s capacity for connecting with his audience.
PJ Bond has come a long way in strengthening his sound. Where Were You? should answer any outstanding questions about Bond’s confidence in holding an audience beyond a track or two. His soft approach to songwriting is a breeze to listen to, and with continued effort in advancing a more adventurous spirit, will surely see PJ Bond traversing plenty of more ground.