There are a lot of ways you could describe an artist as talented and versatile as Deni Bonet. But the simplest way is best: Just imagine your favorite singer-songwriter – with a violin and a better sense of irony.
A classically-trained musician who’s performed or recorded with some of the classic names in rock and pop – R.E.M., Sarah McLachlan, Daniel Lanois and the late Warren Zevon, to name just a few – and who recently toured the world with Cyndi Lauper, Bonet is now stepping into the solo spotlight with her second album, Last Girl On Earth.
With a dozen new songs and a singular sound The Wall Street Journal calls “Sheryl Crow meets The B-52s,” this energetic disc makes it clear why Bonet traded her black recital duds for a pair of go-go boots and an electric blue violin. Rather than ply her trade in an orchestra, she’s found a way to fit her string skills into ultra-hummable alternative pop, which the Journal noted is "catchy as any Top 40 radio song, but with occasional hints of adult depth."
Bonet first came to widespread attention as an original member of the National Public Radio’s premier music show Mountain Stage, where she built a following as a member of the broadcast’s house band, singing and playing in her own right and backing up artists as diverse as the Indigo Girls, Richard Thompson and Allen Toussaint. In 1993, Bonet relocated to London, where she worked with alternative rock legend (and former Soft Boy) Robyn Hitchcock.
Bonet has also hosted her own cable TV show, Duets With Deni, a combination of music and chat which featured a series of all-star guests, and was the subject of a rave Billboard feature. She has performed highly-regarded showcases at CMJ and SXSW, and took her act on the road with Lilith Fair. And she's remained one of the most in-demand session players and sidewomen around, adding her violin to albums by an impressive variety of artists -- from the introspective Sarah McLachlan to techno-metal band Gravity Kills -- and making TV appearances on The Today Show, Saturday Night Live and Late Night With Conan O’Brien.
But make no mistake: Bonet’s considerable chops on violin are always secondary to her songs, as she once made clear with an instrumental sarcastically titled “The Goddamn Violin Solo.” The tunes on Last Girl On Earth prove that she’s a writer to be reckoned with – and a damn good one, at that.
Just check “I Want To Get Arrested,” an honor (and dishonor) roll of celebs who’ve done hard time, which finds Bonet crooning “I wanna take a shower with Courtney Love and Winona Ryder.” Meanwhile, “F*ck It!” is an irresistible and uplifting singalong that advises “Deepak Chopra, Kiss my ass,” and suggests the most courageous thing we can do is get out of bed and face the day, when all the odds are against us. And don’t miss the cover of Cameo’s “Word Up,” where Bonet and well-known girl group BETTY! turn the R&B classic inside out, and give it a funky, feminized twist.
It’s not all fun and games, however. The sultry, B3-laced “How Far Can I Push You,” a duet with the erudite folksinger and author John Wesley Harding, will resonate with anyone struggling to overcome a “cynical and suspicious” nature and hang onto a relationship. Meanwhile, the title track is a sweeping piano ballad, co-written with art-pop master Richard Barone, (the Bongos), that showcases Bonet’s songwriting gift in classic form. (The disc also includes a bonus reprise of the song, recorded with the full band.)
Harding (who also sings on the leadoff track, “It Sucks But It’s True”) and Barone (vocals and guitar on “Last Girl On Earth” and “Don’t Make Promises”) are only two of the familiar names who joined Bonet for the recording. The album also features contributions by Sean Altman of Rockapella, and Alicia Keys’ horn section.
Former Gang of Four / B-52’s bassist Sara Lee adds her signature licks, and acclaimed guitarist Kevin Salem (Freedy Johnston, Emmylou Harris) plays on most of the album. The disc was mixed by Grammy-nominated engineer, Juan Patino, who’s previously helmed efforts by Jewel and Lisa Loeb. And old friend Robyn Hitchcock even drops in for a cameo on “Small Talk."
During the Nineties, Bonet toured frequently with Hitchcock, including a series of concerts as a duo that won praise from USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. She played on Hitchcock’s album Moss Elixir, and even appeared in the Jonathan Demme concert film Storefront Hitchcock, but she eventually decided it was time to go solo.
Moving to New York, Bonet released an initial EP (titled, simply, EP) and then her full-length debut, Bigger Is Always Better, which hit the streets on an unintentionally inauspicious date: Sept. 10, 2001. The disc, which featured guest appearances from Hitchcock and The Soft Boys’ Kimberly Rew (who wrote Katrina and the Waves' classic hit “Walking On Sunshine”), garnered rave reviews. The Boston Globe’s Jim Sullivan said Bonet's “’Sunshine’…may be the sexiest, sauciest, most life-affirming song of the year,” while All Music Guide gave the album a four-star review and labeled it “a glorious, intelligent hookfest, the likes of which listeners have desperately needed since pop became a marketing strategy for Mickey Mouse Club graduates.”
As she established herself as a solo act, Bonet impressed artists like Patti Smith, Lisa Loeb, Cracker, Midnight Oil, The Saw Doctors, The Tubes, Marshall Crenshaw and The Beautiful South, all of whom have all invited her to open their shows. She spent a couple of years as the violinist in Cyndi Lauper’s band, touring the globe and occasionally being poached by other acts on the bill (the legendary Meatloaf, for one). And she remains a huge favorite in the country of Turkey!
In 2005, Bonet released an EP titled Acoustic, OK?, which featured stripped-down renditions of six songs from her catalog, and began recording Last Girl On Earth.
With the fiery, funny and fabulous Last Girl On Earth, Bonet has not only recorded her finest work to date. She’s also crafted an album that could make the words of Rolling Stone’s Rob Kemp – who said of Bonet, “She could be huge” – downright prophetic.