Bonnie Bishop made her first impression on many music fans as a songwriter, and it was more than a decade into her recording career that she finally released her breakthrough album, 2016's Ain't Who I Was, that consolidated her talents as a vocalist.
Bishop first emerged from the fertile singer/songwriter community in Texas, writing and singing country-flavored material that made her a frequent performer on the Lone Star State's honky tonk circuit, delivering songs of hard-won wisdom about affairs of the heart. But while Long Way Home (2004) and Soft to the Touch (2005) fared respectably, it was when Bonnie Raitt covered "Ain't Gonna Let You Go" in 2012 and "The Best Songs Come from Broken Hearts" appeared on the television drama Nashville in 2013 that fans outside the Southwest began hearing her music in appreciable numbers. After taking a break from performing and recording, Bishop redefined herself with the tougher and more soulful approach of Ain't Who I Was, gaining a new respect and enthusiasm from critics and fans.
Bonnie Bishop spent most of her childhood in Houston, Texas, and as a girl she began digging into her parents' collection of vintage soul music, singing Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding tunes for visiting relatives at family gatherings. She enjoyed performing in musical theater and took classical vocal lessons while in high school, but when she enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin, she put music on the back burner for a while as she studied sociology. Bishop still wrote songs, though, and after she graduated, she began performing on the thriving Austin club scene. In time, she put together a band, was touring the Lone Star state on a regular basis, and developed a following among music fans and her fellow musicians.
In 2002, Bishop released a four-song EP that featured guitar work from ace multi-instrumentalist Lloyd Maines, and 2004 saw the release of her first full-length album, Long Way Home, which like the EP was issued through her own BB Music label. She struck a deal with Smith Music for her next album, 2005's Soft to the Touch; the title song was co-written by Bishop and Texas songwriting legend Ray Wylie Hubbard. 2006 saw the release of an acoustic concert album, Bonnie Bishop and Friends: Live @ Magnolia Avenue Salon, and Robert Earl Keen took Bishop on the road as his opening act, helping to expand her audience outside the Southwest.
She left Texas for Nashville in 2007 and soon landed a publishing deal, which led to her writing songs with Jimmy Wallace, Mike Reid, and former NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson. Bishop's work with Anderson paid off when Bonnie Raitt recorded their song "Ain't Gonna Let You Go" on her 2012 album Slipstream, which won a Grammy Award for Best Americana Album. However, Bishop's own recording career wasn't faring as well, and her 2012 album Free attracted little notice. After years of constant touring, she was burning out on the music business, and she took a break from music to study creative writing and ponder her future. Ironically, Bishop was on her break from music when, in 2013, her song "The Best Songs Come from Broken Hearts" (co-written with Ronnie Rogers) was given a showy placement on the popular television series Nashville, performed by Rayna Jaymes (played by Connie Britton) at the Grand Ole Opry.
In time, Bishop was lured back into the music business when the successful independent label Thirty Tigers expressed interest in having her cut a new album, and they put her in contact with producer Dave Cobb, who had worked with the likes of Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Brandi Carlile. Cobb told Bishop he believed she hadn't fully explored the soulful side of her musical personality, and he emphasized her passionate vocals and emotionally incisive songs on her 2016 full-length Ain't Who I Was. The album clicked with critics and revived Bishop's career as a performer. She followed it with 2019's The Walk, a more ambitious and lyrically personal effort produced by Steve Jordan. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi