The Sweetheart of this RODEO

I first met Wilmington, NC, musician John Fonvielle a little more than two years ago, when my sister brought him to a family get-together, where he charmed the churlish clan and wowed us with a little picking and singing. Next thing I knew, I was making her wedding dress and he–in addition to playing solo and in two bands–was recording an album of the lonely songs he wrote before she came along. After the usual torturous efforts, the ten-song disc RODEO (Step Right Up Productions) was released October 4  with a party in the listening room at Ted’s Fun on the River in Wilmington.

John Fonvielle, at Ted's. Photo: Harry Taylor.

John Fonvielle, at Ted’s. Photo: Harry Taylor.

Now, I’m sure I’m not the only critic with this abiding fear: You meet an artist, really like him…but the art is not so good….and you have to say something about it. Not a problem here! It is with the greatest relief that I can now report that not only does John Fonvielle sing well (in a Drambuie kind of voice, smooth and potent), and play guitar, bass, mandolin, piano and organ, he can flat write a song. Working in the Americana singer-songwriter tradition, he crafts lyrics at once familiar and enigmatic, about love and heartbreak; about leaving town and about coming home; about finding oneself and finding “a soft place to land.” You can hear some influences, but only the best kind: Tom Waits, Gram Parsons, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, Emmy Lou, even the late great Jesse Winchester.

Wilmington supports a rich local music scene, and Fonvielle (whose family goes back generations in the Port City) works with a crew of fine players, many with deep Wilmington roots. Musicians on the album include Jeff Reid, who also engineered the tracks in the Tiger Den at Reid Recording, and mixed and produced the album along with Fonvielle. Listen to a little of the music, or buy the beautifully produced CD/download at There’s some poetry on there.

And I’m not saying that just because he’s my brother-in-law.

Waitress brought the coffee

Flavored with a spoon

A short stack of cakes

Looking like a Harvest Moon

Keep the cream, I take mine black

It was then I remembered you ain’t

coming back

—from “If Love Never Dies”

John Fonvielle with a couple of his well-travelled instruments.

John Fonvielle with a couple of his well-travelled instruments. Photo: Jean Dobbs Fonvielle.

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