Vincent D'Onofrio & Dana Lyn: Slim Bone Head Volt
Buddhabug Records

Yes, Slim Bone Head Volt does, in fact, feature Vincent D'Onofrio the actor, the very one responsible for any number of unforgettable performances, prominent among them his portrayal of Leonard, the dangerously unstable Vietnam War recruit in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, and Detective Robert Goren, the character he played in over 100 episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Slim Bone Head Volt isn't a solo vehicle, however, but rather a collaborative venture pairing D'Onofrio and multi-instrumentalist Dana Lyn, herself an omnivorous composer, keyboardist, and violinist who's as comfortable playing contemporary classical and jazz as she is traditional Irish music and Broadway tunes.

How did such a project come about? It began during rehearsals when the two were involved as cast members in an off-Broadway play and D'Onofrio began sharing with his fellow actors rambling text messages that so captivated Lynn, she pitched the idea of wedding his texts to her music. As evidenced by the physical result, D'Onofrio suppressed any urge to self-edit rants that are self-absorbed, deluded, obsessive, off-the-wall, and hilarious. Recited as journal entries, the texts range over a number of subjects, with the actor musing feverishly upon imaginary friends (“My Friend, Manchester Pt. 1”), pigs (“Pig Tender”), hair (“Super Golden”), hamsters (“I'm a Hamster”), birds (“Thank God Birds Can't Talk”), Blanche DuBois (“Blanche”), and any number of topics. D'Onofrio gives expressive performances throughout, which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his work. Though the project's interest level is obviously enhanced by the musical dimension, the material would command the listener's attention even if his voice were the only element presented.

On this oft-raucous recording, half of the music was improvised, the direction it took prompted by D'Onofrio's words (the other half was through-composed). Though they're dramatically different parts, the spoken and instrumental elements come together as a complementary whole. Even so, it's interesting that the album's most affecting piece is its most subdued, “Blanche,” a plaintive, strings-based rumination in which D'Onofrio expresses regret over a part he'll never get to play despite being born to it.

As far as musical resources are concerned, Lyn, credited with violin, viola, piano, and iPod, is augmented by Mike McGinnis (clarinet, tenor sax), Briggan Krauss (alto and baritone sax), Kyle Sanna (guitar), Geoff Kraly (bass), and Vinny Sperrazza (drums), plus trumpeter Ben Holmes and cellist Clara Kennedy on a couple of tracks. The musicians repeatedly show themselves to be a versatile bunch capable of adapting to the music's stylistic challenges with admirable ease. Lyn's arrangements are flexible in manner, too, with instrument combinations tailored to match the content of the speaker's words. Woodwinds and pianos wildly swirl in pieces that range between swing jazz (“My Friend, Manchester Pt. 1”), funk (“President D'Onofrio”), raw noise improvs (“Super Beautiful,” its attack reminiscent of John Zorn's Naked City), and everything in between. The entire album was laid down in two five-hour sessions, with no more than three takes per song, and most of the fourteen pieces are short, resulting in a mini-album that lasts thirty-three minutes. It's a wild ride, to be sure, and also one probably unlike anything else you've heard before.

April 2015