Love, as Nat King Cole sang, is the thing. It’s often cherished, sometimes confounding, occasionally taken for granted, and an inspiration and torment to artists and dreamers alike. While putting together her just-released uplifting collection of love songs, pop singer-songwriter Alyssa Bonagura chose to name her new album Love Hard. The title speaks to her tales of women experiencing different stages of romantic and self-love, finding value in companionship, and confronting uncertainties and emerging stronger.
The Tennessee native has always excelled at crafting relatable narratives about relationships, previously in the folk-pop vein. Love Hard is unabashedly mainstream and sonically more aggressive than Bonagura’s previous work. Thankfully, she succeeds in marrying more dramatic production to her strong lyrical content without overpowering her honeyed vocals.
Looking at the album art for Love Hard, one might mistake it for a pure pop confection. However, the songs on the album contain steely resolve. That’s only fitting considering the multiple roles Bonagura takes on for this project: artist, engineer, and producer. She’s in complete control over her artistic output. The soaring opening anthem “Warrior,” penned for a friend battling cancer, could easily double as a reference to the work it took to bring Love Hard to fruition:
Every scar on my skin
Is a beautiful reminder
Of a moment that I didn’t give in
And I walked through fire.
Love Hard is full of upbeat ear candy, but there is sustenance beneath the sweetness.
Much of Love Hard revolves around the idea of empowerment, whether that occurs from casting aside personal inhibitions, seeking solace in quieter moments, or comforting the broken. Bonagura’s breezy hit single “I Make My Own Sunshine” cheerfully opines “It don’t matter if it’s raining/Nothing can phase me,” managing to sound joyful without dissolving into schmaltz.
It’s important to note that Bonagura’s brand of empowerment never occurs at the expense of others. In “We Stop Time” the narrator enjoys spending time with a former beau who is currently attached to another woman. Despite the former couple’s connection, the narrator never denigrates the man’s significant other. It’s to Bonagura’s credit that none of the figures in the narrative are portrayed as villains; rather, her focus is on the thrilling high that results from the former couple’s unresolved feelings. During “Armour of Love,” when the narrator finds herself in the opposite position, she determines “I don’t want to be threatened by the envy.” Her quiet confidence results in her ability to rise above the emotional fray.
“Killing Me,” a passionate duet with Tyler Wilkinson reminiscent of the Civil Wars, and “I Can Take the Rain,” a lovely expression of hope in the strength of a relationship set against destructive imagery, round out the album’s highlights. Love Hard is not simply about loving ferociously; it is also about loving well. Bonagura manages to give a voice to those struggling through and reveling in relationships and ultimately arriving at the conclusion that even with all its complications, yes, love is still the thing.