There's something to be said for bluntness, even if it means naming the first song on your first solo record "How Will You Meet Your End" -- later followed by "Killed Myself When I Was Young." From the first rattling chords, you know singer-songwriter A.A. Bondy isn't gonna be Jason Mraz.
But "Killed Myself When I Was Young," off Bondy's 2007 album, American Hearts, is more than a mood-setter -- it's a nod to a real past, one killed off and forgotten.
A.A. Bondy (short for Auguste Arthur) started out as the frontman of Verbena. The Birmingham, Ala., band might've broken through in the late 1990s, had it not sounded like a grade-C Nirvana. (In Verbena's defense, the band's major-label debut was produced by Nirvana's Dave Grohl.) The band broke up in 2003, and Bondy shuttered himself in his upstate New York home.
Four years later, Bondy emerged, having shed Verbena's chunky chords and overblown dynamics -- an unrecognizable and unbelievably better musician. With American Hearts, Bondy went from wavering rock star to one of the decade's best singer-songwriters.
Since then, Bondy's solo career has all but replaced memories of the alt-rock almost-hero. While he likely won't have another radio hit like Verbena's 1999 "Baby Got Shot," he's garnered a small, devoted fanbase and toured with fellow brooders The Walkmen and The Felice Brothers.
His latest album, last year's When the Devil's Loose, took still more steps forward. While American Hearts presented slow, plodding folk-rock for lonely, sleepless nights, When the Devil's Loose draped haunting shadows over Bondy's lost-soul songs. These songs paint pictures of open fields, dusty dirt roads and cold, starry nights.
Bondy's music is sparsely arranged -- some acoustic strumming, drops of piano, slow-plucked electric guitar -- but filled with heavy moods and heavy thoughts. And his voice, once a hearty Cobain impression, is reborn with a delicate quiver. Like Elliott Smith's, Bondy's voice searches for light in the midst of terrifying darkness.
On "False River," Bondy sings, "Come to me sweet and slow, my dear. Tonight's the night." With another artist, such a line might sound lovely -- a romantic invitation. But from Bondy, it's a foreboding challenge. Come with me, he seems to say, his voice deep and hushed. Come with me if you dare.
A.A. Bondy with the Justin Andrew Band. 10:30 p.m. Fri., Oct. 15 (doors at 10 p.m.). Club Café, 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. $8. 412-431-4950 or www.clubcafelive.com