Bonnie Bishop has been around for a while, recording five albums between 2002 and 2012. But after a decade on the road struggling to support herself, she called it quits, sold her traveling van and moved back to her parents’ ranch outside Austin, enrolling in a graduate creative writing program.
Ain’t Who I Was (2016), marks her return to the music scene. It is most welcome. Bishop has evolved from a self-described country singer trying to sell beer at Texas dance halls to a soul singer more in line with who she is as a musician. She cites Otis Redding as an influence and her voice is both soulful and bluesy, a gravelly blend of her name-sake, Bonnie Raitt (who recorded one of Bishop’s songs, “Not Cause I wanted To” for her Grammy-award winning 2012 record, Slipstream), Susan Tedeschi, and Melissa Etheridge.
The standout track on Ain’t Who I Was is the song that kicks off the album, a funky nugget called “Mercy.” Check out the studio session, above. It is a great version, although you need to make it past the minute-long introduction by the radio host. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.
At the other end of the spectrum is “Be With You” (below) a sultry acoustic ballad that showcases Bishop’s stunning voice.
The songs on Ain’t Who I Was don’t break new ground lyrically, with most about love gone wrong, but their deeply personal character gives the songs gravitas and resonance. When on the track, “Broken,” Bishop sings “I don’t wanna be broken anymore/Don’t wanna see pieces of me shattered on the floor,” you do feel her pain. And maybe your own.