Making the Most, the debut record from Bonfire John and the Majestic Springs Band, is the first complete offering from Carmel, Indiana songwriter Owen Yonce. Yonce, who I believe just graduated high school a few weeks before finishing the record, is something of a protege of Josh “Thunderhawk” Hall, having played here and there in one of Hall’s many side bands (Stun Guzzler, I think). Not only does the young musician appear to love Pavement (this writer’s go-to band), sing quite a bit like Hall and look almost exactly like a young Paul Westerberg (or Rick Springfield, your pick), but he already knows how to construct and record solid indie rock songs, most of which are the result of two laborious months spent recording with producer/engineer Zack Anslem (who also owns Tree Machine Records, the label responsible for putting out Most). The sound on this 12-song debut would best be described as a slightly twangy hybrid of 90s indie rock and classic songwriter face, Yonce mostly sticking to Hall’s “Three Chords and the Truth” ethos throughout, never overstepping, style-wise, nor wandering from his formula. There are small instrumentation and production hiccups here and there, though nothing too off-putting. Mostly, we come to know Yonce as a very talented, very self-assured keeper of the indie rock torch, a young artist with much promise who – despite having his fair share of creative kinks to work out – has made an album that fans of Sebadoh, The Old 97’s and even Jack Johnson will surely enjoy.
Opener “Ya Never Learn Babe” is a quick, sweet and bouncy rocker with lover boy lyrics like “I left my footprint in the sand / The girl she’s trying to hold my hand.” Next up is “Annie’s Pavement Song,” a straightforward, well-written song that almost feels like a home recorded version of a Church Shoes track, Yonce even playing a quick guitar solo in between hooks. Elsewhere on the record Yonce sings about cocaine, weed, losing his mind, old friends and the things his father used to say. Either Yonce is an old soul or he’s playing the part of the ambitious youngster. Either way, the pseudo old soul writing is more charming and endearing than it is off-putting.
I could go on about the little problems here and the great triumphs there, but there’s no need (okay, fine: “Ride With Me,” “Fit for Desire” and “She Lifts Me Up,” three very different songs, are also big favorites that display Yonce’s diversity). Mostly, Making the Most is a solid debut that introduces us to a big new talent. The point of discussion when thinking about the high quality of this record, unavoidably, is the still tender age of the man behind these songs. Yonce is a huge talent with an understanding of pop structure far beyond that of 99.9 percent of the music makers in his age bracket. Sure, there’s still much development to be had ahead (i.e. the lyrics could be better, the songs could be more adventurous and the overall artistic aesthetic of the record’s presentation is a far cry from good), but Yonce seems to be a pure, assured talent.
The question as the record ends is simple: is Owen Yonce talented enough to go the Ryan Adams route and skip college in favor of digging his feet into a music scene where he can further develop his craft? Austin, Portland, Nashville, Chicago, etc. Yes, I think Making the Most makes the case for Yonce as a future star. Whether or not he has the gusto, ambition and confidence to go for broke may be the real question of how quickly and fully he develops his craft. Either way, we can surely expect to hear more from Bonfire John in the years to come. For now, we have a surprisingly consistent, mature and rewarding record full of big moments and tasteful songwriting.