I first heard David Dondero while working college radio in 2005. At the time, I thought it was Conor Oberst / Bright Eyes under an alias. But as I listened to his 2005 album South of the South, I realized that Dondero had a style all his own and a story to tell. There’s a reason that NPR’s “All Songs Considered” named Dondero one of the best living songwriters, heady praise to be sure but well deserved.
Dondero’s new album # Zero With A Bullet is his third full-length, and after losing touch with the Minnesota native’s career, this record makes me glad to have gotten back in touch. He has a gift for highlighting the outcast’s tale, and it’s not just the poor or the uneducated that he places in the spotlight. There’s songs about college kids, about working stiffs with horrible people for bosses, about lovers with terrible pasts. He goes meta by singing about the waning interest in folk music on the album’s title track, which is the record’s strongest.
Now he is on Oberst’s label (Team Love), and the reasons are obvious. He has that same shaky delivery, strained to the point where it sounds like he could cry.
Dondero, just a man with his guitar and a talent for writing simple, elegant and poignant songs full of emotion, is one who should not get lost among the rest of those folk singers. Album is out now: buy it on Amazon here.