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Haley Bonar rambles through

Dolorean, Haley Bonar, Rivulets, The Graves
The Blackbird
May 20, 10 p.m.
21+ cover

There is a stereotype out there, a reasonably inoffensive one, I think, that all people from Duluth, Minn., can sing beautifully.

One reason for the assumption is that the well-known singers of Duluth somehow don’t look like singers. To take a glance at Alan Sparhawk or Mimi Parker, you wouldn’t peg them as the types, but anyone who has heard Low will attest to the beauty of their singing. If even the people who don’t look like singers can sing like that, everyone must be able to. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that even dirty ol’ Zak Sally can sing like an angel.

Some may protest, saying that I have drawn on too limited a sample to come to such a broad conclusion. Well, it isn’t just Low, it’s everything we know about Duluth, which is essentially Low, the pretty-voiced roster of the record label they run, and the so-pretty-it-must-be-sung name of the town itself.

I’d like to say that the above is enough evidence to stake a case on, but if I need another example, one that is isolated from the whole Low phenomenon, I sure have one. I went to a university in Washington for a while with a girl from Duluth – and her voice, heartbreakingly beautiful, provided all of the evidence I could ever need. For me, the issue is settled.

Unfortunately, though, I can’t just drag her around to prove a point, so Haley Bonar, who certainly has the right voice, will have to represent, although her background may not hold up to scrutiny.

Not a native of Duluth, as she was raised and has recorded both of her albums in South Dakota, Bonar knows where to go if she wants to sing beautiful, dusky ballads. Like any press release worth its ink, Bonar claims that her music is difficult to classify, but really her style is older than the hills and that is what makes it such an impressive accomplishment for a young artist.

Like Portland’s own Dying Embers, Bonar has obviously studied up on her history and allowed her distinct personality to color the songs without sacrificing their more traditional charms. She also understands the impact of allowing local geography a place in her music, setting her timeless songs against a specific backdrop that gives them the folksy, regional feel that they carry no matter where they are played.

Although her unaccompanied voice would be enough to hold her songs together, Bonar chooses to augment herself with sparse acoustic guitar, piano and organ, lending the perfect ambiance to her tales of forlorn cowboys, abandoned shacks and the curse of the bottle.

Touring with Bonar is handsome fellow Nathan Amundson, who performs his spacey acoustic numbers under the stage name Rivulets.