Thursday, May 21, 2015

Could The Lone Bellow be Americana’s first Superstars?

Then Came The Morning

The Lone Bellows Performing on
The Late Show with David Letterman
     Neil heard The Lone Bellow a couple of times on WNKU – yes, the region’s coolest radio station – and then checked them out singing “Then Came The Morning” on a YouTube clip from David Letterman’s show.   It’s a joyous sounding break-up song that’s tempered by the dialectic of Zach Williams’ nasal tenor, Kanene Donehey Pipkin’s enveloping soprano, and Brian Elmquist’s steadying baritone.  Both have
strong pipes that power through, quiver and quaver, or plainly state the lyrics.  “Take My Love,” on the other hand, is a straight ahead pleading love song with a bass line and intro that made me think the narrator might be a stalker.  

Zach Williams and Brian Elmquist*
     There are a number of influences flowing through The Lone Bellow’s sound, which can be majestic or lilting in “Call To War,” where Pipkin’s lead vocal sounds like it just hopped over from Galway.  “Diners” could be a mid-tempo pop song from 1955 to now, while “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” is the best lament for a southern past since Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind,” or Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel (1929) for that matter, in its lyrics, but rhythm rocks like a forgotten song by Charlie Daniels or Jerry Lee Lewis.  

     “Cold As It Is,” pulls it all together with a pulsing, upbeat tempo and a pop chorus set against a first verse that links Greek and Christian myth:

     ‘cold as it is, I wouldn’t leave my baby doll, 
          wouldn’t leave’
     ‘I saw you walkin’ on the water while I was/drowning 
          underneath/eyes just like 
     any other daughter, pulling me/into the deep/your 
          name was written on the apple,
     I carved my name into that tree/pure gold but, darling, 
          it’s unnatural the way/you bring me to my knees’

It’s a great song that isn’t the last on the album, but it feels like a bookend to “Then Came The Morning.”

     This crazy quilt dichotomy that plays out in a completely assured style and sound has led to writers calling The Lone Bellow everything from the best country to come out of Brooklyn to indie rock to alternative pop to whatever else can be thought up.  Even their CD cover and inside photos present polar opposite images that hang together as if intended from before their first memory.  Someone’s lonely grandmother sips her morning coffee on the front and her in need of an update 1960s kitchen with the washed pots and pans waiting to be put back on the shelf.  Inside, we see the trio (they’re assisted by a couple of other musicians, who aren’t pictured) and they look like they could be going to dinner at The Four Seasons.  

    Williams reminded Neil of Joe Cocker’s flailing intensity when he saw him.  It’s apt, but Williams, Pipkin, and Elmquist are supremely self-assured, which Cocker, to his great misfortune, was not.  Americana is a musical genre that has been cobbled together to include a number of mature artists that were either country-rock (back in the 20th century) or roots rockers or alt or, whatever can be named.  Its grande dame is Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell the Grand Vizier.  To be more viable commercially, which might go completely against its intentions, it needs a new artist as star and potential superstar.  The Lone Bellow gets my vote hands down.

*Photo by Louis Kwok

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