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First Listen: David Dondero, 'Number Zero With A Bullet'

A few years ago, I put together a list of what I thought to be our greatest living songwriters. It was imperfect, to say the least, but one artist I included and still stand by is David Dondero.

Dondero is a brilliant storyteller and poet. His searching melodies and distinctive voice are heartbreakingly beautiful and uplifting. But after a decade of releasing albums, Dondero remains criminally unknown. The Austin, Texas-based singer takes a funny swipe at his own obscurity on his latest album, Number Zero With a Bullet, a title that suggests Dondero's years of hard work have catapulted him straight to the bottom.

"Yeah, I know where I stand in the game," Dondero says. "[It] doesn't mean I'm not gonna keep playing. I didn't think I had another song in me, but here we go again. They just crept up and wouldn't leave me alone, wouldn't let me sleep. I don't even know where the hell they came from or remember how they got here."

The songs come from Dondero's own life. On a never-ending tour and living out of his car, Dondero has long trudged through the detritus of humanity, turning his acute observations and experiences into sometimes twisted tales. It's a world populated by raving drunks, bored strippers, the perpetually broke and lonelyhearted. Dondero exposes this backroads landscape and all its emotional land mines on Number Zero With a Bullet. With each listen, it stands out as his sharpest and most inspired work.

It's impossible to know why some artists find an audience and others don't. In Dondero's case, it may be his own humility, or the fact that he's naturally a pretty shy guy. Sometimes it's hard to get people to pay attention when you're the softest voice in the room. But in Dondero's case, it's a beautiful and lasting voice, and one you can enjoy on Number Zero With a Bullet, available here in its entirety until its release on Aug. 3. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robin Hilton is a producer and co-host of the popular NPR Music show All Songs Considered.