The Roots Canal: Bill & Bonnie HearneBill and Bonnie Hearne -- New Mexico Rain
Bill and Bonnie Hearne -- Fusion
When they first walk out to play, you wonder what you've gotten yourself into. They're not hipsters, to put it mildly. Bonnie's completely blind, and Bill's not far behind. He leads her out wearing glasses thicker than the beer bottle you're drinking from. They're both stocky, rough-hewn, flashing crooked smiles, perhaps best described as "frumpy." You wonder if you've just wandered into an old movie. Then they start tearing up the joint on guitar and piano, taking turns singing with sweet expressive voices, and you think, oh my god where in creation have these guys been hiding?
New Mexico, actually. Bill & Bonnie have been playing the honky tonks of Texas and New Mexico since before a lot of their listeners were born. After meeting at the Austin School for the Blind, they became fixtures of the Austin scene in its heyday before exiling themselves to northern New Mexico in the 1970s. But they kept in touch with their old friends and still get together to record and tour with the likes of Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Tish Hinojosa and Emmylou Harris. They're still there, knocking around from town to town in the Southwest (although Bonnie's not well enough to play anymore, so Bill formed his own trio).
Their best record is Diamonds in the Rough, their first on a major label (there are three left on Amazon, and it's available on iTunes). But I've got a particular weakness for these two songs from an earlier record, New Mexico Rain. The album's never been released on CD but these songs are available on a collection of their earlier work called Most Requested Plus (available on their own website). Bonnie's got an album of her own that I've never heard, Saturday Night Girl. There's also a so-so album of road songs called Watching Life Through a Windshield (available on iTunes). There's a live album from La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, where you can still hear Bill when he's not on the road. And Bill recently put out his own CD, From Las Cruces to Santa Fe (available on CD Baby). They're also featured on a strange record called The I-10 Chronicles along with people like Willie Nelson (who Bonnie used to back up on piano in the old days) and Joe Ely of the Flatlanders.
This article, reprinted on their site, is the best I've seen about Bill and Bonnie.
Bonus Tracks: Oh, what the hell. I can't resist posting a few more songs. Here's a couple of duets from Diamonds in the Rough:
Bill and Bonnie Hearne -- Going Back to Georgia
Bill and Bonnie Hearne -- Wild Geese
I like "Fusion" a lot, "Wild Geese" too.
Also: who's Marylou Harris?