“Trauma” generally centers around moments that shatter reality as we know it. It is an engine that propels medical science, psychology, and disaster response. But what about the in-the-trenches impact of life from day to day or year to year? Such struggle is the stuff of spiritual journey, the stuff of sacrifice, the stuff of endurance, the stuff of failure and ultimately the stuff of faith, hope, and love. It is that “Slow Trauma” that Bill Mallonee explores with the ever-deepening poetic voice that has carried him from the “next big thing” status that plagued Vigilantes of Love into something more rewarding and valuable than any industry that seeks to profit from human expression could ever recognize. It is a shame that people might not hear these songs. The good news is that these songs exist: they are begging to be heard and demand to find and audience as listeners become promoters in the age of social media interconnection. In other words: I’m telling you about these songs so that you will tell somebody else. I want you to listen. I want you to purchase. I want your journey to be shaped by the journey of “Slow Trauma”.
These are songs of journey and struggle, of faith instead of certainty. Perhaps it’s the journey of a railroad worker leaving his family as the nation expands westward. Perhaps it’s the journey of a troubadour songwriter travelling that same geographic route while letting go of everything that defined his past in order to take hold of what lies ahead. Perhaps it’s the journey that all of us struggle to understand: a life with no guarantees except that of our own mortality. Perhaps it’s all of the above.
For churched people, it makes perfect sense that these songs first arrived on our doorsteps or devices as the journey of Holy Week was about to unfold once again. These are songs that point toward Easter, toward hope and new life, but get there by the only road available: the way of struggle, suffering, and even death. For unchurched souls, it’s much simpler: these songs are devoid of bullshit. They refuse to offer simple answers to burning questions; they also refuse to give up on what might be waiting over that last hill if we have the courage to seek it out.
Musically, Mallonee brings the sound of a full band to these songs, even while going it alone (save for Muriah Rose on piano and organ). His upbringing as a drummer provides a subdued but solid foundation for guitar work that has continued in recent years to expand into gritty soulful melodic leads that bring a wistful yet buoyant quality to each song. A striking feature of these particular songs are the yearning harmony vocals sung by Mallonee himself.
Over the course of 10 songs, Mallonee takes the willing listener on a journey. The album begins with the 1-minute overture of “One and the Same” setting the scene for all that is to follow. The need to embark on the journey unfolds in the uncertainty of “Only Time Will Tell,” the hesitant restlessness of “Waiting for the Stone (to be Rolled Away),” and the urgent inevitability of “Hour Glass (Only So Many Grains of Sand)”.
“WPA (When I Get to Where They’re Taking Us)” bids farewell to all that is comfortable and cherished while promising to write home regularly. It also touches on the uncomfortable journey that begins at the farewell of the grave: “Tossing you a scrap; throwing you a crust. It’s all ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”
The struggle of the journey unfolds across “Ironclad”, “High~Beam” and “Doldrums in Denver”. With no guarantees, there is a wish to “wind the tape back to the very start” even while acknowledging that there’s not really a home to return to. “High~Beam” is the catharsis of an artist that has come to terms with an industry that claims to want authenticity, but then turns a deaf ear. Grace invades in the form of a pen that keeps writing and a guitar that keeps demanding to be played. Out of that resolve comes the realization—or better yet: revelation—that “whatever is heavy as hell is what you shouldn’t carry”. “Doldrums in Denver” is the cold and lonely place that begs you to continue the journey if only to ensure that it doesn’t end there.
Ultimate hope offers a glimpse of its face in “The King’s Highway (New Set of Wheels).” Staying true to the journey and the reality of struggle, it makes no claim of certainly or on-demand delivery:
Could be soon, could be far;
but that’s not mine to say.
You’ll get a new set of wheels on the King’s Highway.
Just another road song for the radio to play.
You’ll get a new set of wheels on the King’s Highway.
“That Last Hill” offers the final word with the same eloquence that “One and The Same” started the story. As “the final grains of sand fall through the slender neck of the hour glass” and Mallonee reflects on life’s journey during which “it’s funny how things can get so damn misplaced”, he hopes that he will be received kindly at his final destination:
Lord, gather me unto Thyself
when my wayward heart grows still.
I just wanna see over that last hill.
Mallonee’s music continues to offer riches to every listener fortunate enough to have somebody insist that they spend time with these songs. If you have read this far, I must insist that you take time to listen to “Slow Trauma” yourself. Listen to it and invite others to listen. Bill Mallonee admits that the self-promotion necessary to sustain a musician’s career does not feel authentic to him. As an alternative, I can think of nothing more authentic than a legion of listeners taking up the mantle of inviting others into the struggle and the journey Mallonee’s music embraces. Who will you share these songs of grace and truth with?