Karla Bonoff

Karla Bonoff is a name you more likely remember as a songwriter rather than a performer, although she charted several albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Three songs on Bonoff’s debut album were also recorded by Linda Ronstadt.  The comparisons to Ronstadt were obvious, aside from providing her material. Bonoff’s style is similar to Ronstadt’s, but Bonoff has a softer voice, with not as much range as Ronstadt, but still very accomplished.  No one has a voice like Linda Ronstadt so it is not a criticism.

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Growing up in the L.A. area, Bonoff was involved in the music scene at an early age.  She formed a band with Kenny Edwards, Wendy Waldman and Andrew Gold – Bryndle.  They recorded an album but it failed to excite the world.  According to Bonoff’s website, Edwards and Gold joined Linda Ronstadt’s band, playing on her records and touring.  It was through Edwards that Ronstadt heard Bonoff’s demos, which resulted in three songs appearing on Ronstadt’s Hasten Down the Wind album in 1976. This resulted in a recording contract and the release of her first album in 1977, Karla Bonoff.

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Songs by Karla Bonoff except “Faces in the Wind” and “Flying High.”  The album was produced by fellow Bryndle member Kenny Edwards, who would also produce her next two albums.

Her debut album was for her recording career, the peak of her success.  As a writer, her songs would still be covered by other artists, but Karla Bonoff was unique.  The songs here were from her personal treasure, they were road-tested and polished.  For me, it’s an amazing first album, and still one of my favorites.  It is hard to replicate letting the genie out of the bottle.

Side one

“Someone To Lay Down Beside Me”    4:06  She lead with her most stellar song, released by Ronstadt as a single the previous year.  Both versions are very good.  The arrangement here is not as grand, but not a big deal.  It’s a mature song and well-crafted.  My personal favorite Bonoff song.  It’s a very sad song, of just wanting someone, to help fill the void, another person who is a passing ship in the night.

“I Can’t Hold On”  3:15  This is an uptempo song.  Fine guitar work.  A single from the album.  I think her strength in is her ballads, her more poignant songs.

“Lose Again”   3:42  Also recorded by Ronstadt and released as a single.  Bonoff’s version is just her and a piano, that’s all that is needed to convey the ache and resilience in her words.  She sings from the heart, feelings we have all experienced and struggle to process.

Save Me, Free Me From My Heart This Time
Train’s Going Down the Track and I Stay Behind
Nothing Can Free Me From This Ball and Chain
I Made Up My Mind That I Would Live Today
And You’re Keeping Me Going, I Know It’s Insane
Cause I Love You, and Lose Again

“Home”  4:19  A country-rock song about the joys found at being home. Lyrical images for anyone who thinks about who it feels to be headed home.  With steel guitar.  Bonoff writes with the maturity of someone much older who has experienced so much more.

Traveling at night, the headlights were bright
And we’d been up many an hour
And all through my brain
Came the refrain
Of home and it’s warming fire
And Home
Sings me of sweet things
My life there has it’s own wings
To fly over the mountains
Though I’m standing still

“Faces in the Wind” Craig Safan    3:07  An interesting choice, I don’t know the reason she picked this one.  It’s a folk ballad about someone who has traveled in life and that is not likely to change and settle down. A good song, but not better than what Bonoff wrote for this album.

Side two

“Isn’t It Always Love” 3:08  A mid-tempo song with a bright, bouncy rhythm and nice melody.

“If He’s Ever Near”  3:17  The third song recorded by Ronstadt.  Bonoff’s version is just a guitar and piano accompaniment, along with harmony vocals.  Bonoff has a gift for melody, creating memorable songs that never seem to repeat.  A hopeful song about finding love by how his presence makes you feel.

They say just once in life
You find someone that’s right
But the world looks so confused
I can’t tell false from true
And love’s so hard to find
In this state of mind
Oh i hope I’ll know him
I hope I’ll know him
If he’s ever near
Well it seemed the time had come
I thought you were the one
When I looked into your eyes
It never looked like lies

“Flying High” Steve Ferguson   3:29  A bright, upbeat song, with a country-rock style.  A nice addition to the album.

“Falling Star”   4:30  A soft, acoustic arrangement, with a lot of soul.  A very beautiful song about falling, but wanting to love again.

‘Cause every night I sit here by the phone.
You know it rings a lot inside my head.
I daydream you’re home.
I never knew that it would go this far.
Come pick me up, I’m going down
like a falling star.
And the clock strikes midnight
and I’m lying here alone.
I can’t sleep, I hear my heartbeat
Oh, I can’t stand the monotone.

“Rose in the Garden”  4:43  The album closes with a ballad, and a good one. This is a power ballad of sorts, starting with just a piano and building to something more forceful before returning to a soft fade out.

There’s a rose in the garden
It will bloom if you’re sure
That you pay close attention
but leave it room
I know your heart can be opened
And like the rose, it will bloom
if I pay close attention
But leave you room
I’m not telling any lies now
I need you
You know how
I think I can see how to let you grow
I’ve got to let you go

After the album ends, you want to flip the vinyl and listen again.  What you heard moved you.

The main band has some recognizable name:

Karla Bonoff – lead vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, background vocals
Kenny Edwards – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, mandolin, background vocals
Andrew Gold – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, electric piano, clavinet, harmonium, background vocals
Waddy Wachtel – electric guitar
Leland Sklar – bass guitar
Russ Kunkel – drums

Linda Ronstadt, Wendy Waldman, Glenn Frey, J.D. Souther, Brock Walsh – background vocals

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Karla Bonoff is an accomplished performer, playing many concerts each year and occasionally releasing a new CD.

Restless Nights came in 1979, and was more of the same, but the songs did not have the uniqueness of her debut album.  She seemed to be in a holding pattern.  Although the playing and production is fine, you expected a little more.

Wild Heart of the Young followed in 1982.  Same formula as before. If you liked her previous two albums, you will like this one. Not great, but very good.

Her next album, New World, wouldn’t appear until 1988.  Much had changed, a smaller label and new producer. These songs were stronger, Ronstadt covered three and Wynonna Judd featured one on an album.  “All of My Life” won a Grammy Award for Ronstadt and Aaron Neville.


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