Out of the darkness and into the light of day comes “The Girl With the Rattlesnake Heart,” the latest single from critically acclaimed folk/rock juggernaut Steve Bonham and the Long Road. Bonham, aptly self-described as a vagabond philosopher, tells us “It’s a longtime comin’ this changin’ of times” in the opening bars of the song, and he isn’t just talking about pop culture as we’ve come to know it. In this track, Bonham leads us on an intoxicating journey into the heart and soul of American blues music, acquaints us with its finer points and then challenges its foundations by contributing a splash of impulsive, acoustic British blues rock to its time-honored staple structure. There’s nothing predictable about this song, from its brooding vocal to the guttural groove it’s so beautifully woven into. The only thing that can be counted on when travelling in the company of “The Girl With the Rattlesnake Heart” is an up close and personal view of melody when it is at its most grizzly, unforgiving and violent – something that I think most music fans will agree is unfortunately missing from the repertoires of today’s most popular artists.
An acoustic guitar skips vibrantly through a bluesy arrangement without ever batting an eye while the drums dramatically color the rhythm with a precariousness that is angst-ridden and full of disdain. Steve Bonham sings with a sedulousness that reminds me of a young Neil Young, only instead of spouting political diatribes he’s trying to warn us of a serpent-hearted vixen who evades him despite the most dedicated of pursuits. Lyrical snakes, knives and guns join a blues guitar that shatters any illusion of pop pomp and act as key players in the matchup between the fragile harmonies and the animated grooves. Neither side is capable of nor willing to back down, and Bonham ends up serving as a mediator in the audiological war he has started. It’s all entertainment for the audience, who is powerless to intervene in the tizzy of acoustic tones clashing with cryptic lyrics and furious drumming. It’s difficult to nail down precisely where the climax of this song is, but that’s only because of how intense and gripping it is from start to finish.
The guitar solo that comes into focus just before the 1:40 mark and lasts until around 2:30 is even more opulent as an acoustic bit than it ever would have been electrically, and I think that it speaks volumes about the craftsmanship of these licks and the ingeniousness of the artists responsible for their existence.
The master mix produces so much clarity that every tantalizing vibration of the strings resonates divinely, as if the band were playing right in our own living room. As the song nears its conclusion, a more augmented guitar solo leads the retreat into darkness, not dissimilar to a snake slipping away into the wilderness from which it came, satisfied with the little bit of fear and awareness it left in its path. With a disturbing percussive rattle, the track comes to an end, but the impact of its haunting words isn’t going anywhere. Steve Bonham and the Long Road’s new single provides as many chills as it does thrills and leaves no one brave enough to give it a spin disappointed.