The Minnesota native started playing the drums at age 10, which ultimately led to gigs behind the skins for Sunbrain and This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, but he extricated himself from the Punk life in 1998 in order to explore his own musical path. Dondero’s first solo album, The Pity Party, drew on the energy and angst of his Punk roots with lo-fi acoustic Folk atmospherics, his vulnerable vibrato voice and vigorous guitar attack reminiscent of Eddie Vedder playing in a single spotlight. By the time of All Songs Considered’s glowing notice, Dondero had just released 2005’s South of the South, his seventh album, widely considered to be the high-water mark of his catalog at that point. He even got a fairly positive review from the notoriously pissy Pitchfork, who likened him favorably to Conor Oberst (the Bright Eyes frontman has often tagged Dondero as an inspiration).
All Songs Considered’s astute assessment and a burgeoning press kit of great reviews didn’t translate to sales, and Dondero began to experience and give voice to a certain amount of frustration. He wove electric guitars into his sound and sang pointedly about his professional disappointments, particularly on 2010’s # Zero with a Bullet; on “Jesus From 12 to 6,” he sang, “You tell me how I’m living the dream, I tell you buddy boy you’ve been misled/I’ve got a feeling there’s no more left, feeling now it’s hanging on like the death/I need to get away, hey hey/I don’t trust a goddamn thing that I say/I really need to get away, away from me, you, we, too.”
On 2011’s mostly covers release, A Pre-Existing Condition, Dondero returned to an acoustic format and continued to express resentments with a sense of defiance and resilience, a stance that was clear in the ironic title of 2013’s Golden Hits Vol. 1. Last year, Dondero released Inside the Cat’s Eye, a hybrid acoustic/electric album and another stellar example of his intricate wordplay and dusty melodicism. He’s released over 12 albums to date and they’re all available at Bandcamp, so drop some cash in Dondero’s open guitar case and give him a reason to keep being one of the greatest living songwriter.