It’s been about a month since The Lone Bellow’s eponymous debut album came out and I have been listening to it religiously ever since. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that draws me in and just won’t let me go, but the music is intoxicating, like a sweet wine quietly lulling you in until you’re blissful in your drunkenness. It’s tempting to compare them to Mumford & Sons due to a similar earnestness and yearning for something more than what the world has offered but that might be a little misleading. A better comparison might be The Civil Wars but The Lone Bellow has much more energy than they do and features much more prominent use of drums and electric guitar.
A great example of this can be found in the bridge of album opener, “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold,” one of the best expressions of the way it feels to be young and somewhat adrift in New York. Lead singer Zach Williams sings “We are broke in New York City / The F train takes us home”…”It’s harder than we thought it’d be / We’re losing blood with every beat / Our song is not a dying dream,” before, in accordance with the band’s name, bellowing out “You’re not alooooooone / You’re not aloooooone.” What a pitch perfect encapsulation of the simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating experience of living in this teeming goliath of a city without any money. The Lone Bellow are a country (Disclaimer: I hate giving them this genre label but it just sounds better to me than folk rock or roots revival. They’re country in the way that Wilco or Ryan Adams are country) band from Brooklyn with a fervor that is immediately endearing.
All of their songs, even the ones that start out slowly, build to rollicking sing alongs and beg the comparisons to Mumford. Check out “Tree to Grow” or “You Never Need Nobody” for proof. The song that most echoes Mumford and also most exhibits the country influence is probably “You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional,” what with the line “I’m a man of constant sorrow” and the upbeat piano melody. Oh, and that’s not a violin you hear, that’s a fiddle. Ask any country fan, there’s a difference. What really stands out is the way the group effortlessly moves from a full band arrangement into a more sparse sound, sometimes just vocal harmonies without instrumental accompaniment. And have I mentioned the other two singers that join Williams on most of the tracks, Kanene Dohehey Pipkin (who also plays mandolin) and Brian Elmquist (guitar)? Phenomenal. Just check out the video embedded below of the group performing “Two Sides of Lonely” in an old church.
But the absolute highlight of the set for me is the album closer, “The One You Should’ve Let Go,” complete with guitar solo and false ending. There’s nothing better than a full band kicking back in after you think that a song has just ended. Gets me every time and leaves me wanting more.
They just seem hungry and youthful and alive.
I was talking to a friend recently about the current state of popular rock music and we kept coming back to this idea of where that genre is headed and all of the artists that are poised to take it there: Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Alabama Shakes. All of these bands seem to be searching for something greater than themselves and tapping into some collective unconscious of our generation. They remind you that life is more than just the daily grind and more than just doing what is expected of you, of a deep-seated desire to connect with your soul and find your true voice and also to share your life with other people. And their music just sounds more honest and authentic. It’s almost as if Levon Helm sold his soul so that we might get a little taste of it from this new generation of musicians and songwriters. And after this debut, you can count The Lone Bellow among them.