A few things came to mind in the first few moments of listening to The Lone Bellow’s self-titled debut album. They sound a little like Mumford and Sons, if Mumford and Sons added an electric guitar, some drums and a sultry-looking redhead to the mix. They sound like a Lady Antebellum-type that you don’t have to pretend you don’t like (If you don’t like the song “American Honey,” you are lying to yourself). And they sound like a group from the heartland that stumbled its way into Brooklyn and started recording music accordingly. Okay, that last part isn’t as much an observation as it is a fact, and hey, here’s another fact: They just recently quit their jobs to go on the road. After you listen to this album, you’ll get a sense of how amazing that is.
Listen closely when I say this: These guys are freaking good. This is special music. I hesitate to use the word groundbreaking unless I’m talking about a legend or discussing details of a new construction project but listening to The Lone Bellow is a potentially life-altering experience. I of course mean that in a strictly musical sense: Listening to The Lone Bellow is not going to give you a better job and a new car. But it might feel just as good. Every so often, a band comes along that might just change everything. This is that band. With the wildly impressive song structure and harmonic brilliance of each track, they’re taking Winston Marshall’s banjo and smashing it right on top of Marcus Mumford’s head, yelling “The bar has been raised!”
Excuse me for fawning over a band that I just started listening to a few days ago, but there’s something fascinating about listening to a kind-of country-sounding band sing about taking the F train home into Brooklyn. It just works. Moving to New York City seems to be the perfect antidote to the annoying twang and vague ignorance associated with country music. To those who think Toby Keith singing about red Solo cups is the epitome of America I have news for you: it is not. A band with roots in the south that found a new home in the Big Apple and cultivated a new sound – that’s America.
If you are not moved by the second track, “Tree to Grow,” you are not a human being. It is five minutes of magic, beginning with a soft acoustic guitar quickly followed by a soft drum beat. The song slowly builds up and gradually ascends to a beautifully melodic group sing-along that CSNY would be proud of, and right at the height of it all, they slow it back down and gently put the song to bed, so to speak. It’s not something that hasn’t been done before, but nobody has done it this well in a while.
If I can complain about one thing, it’s the melodramatic names of the songs. “Two Sides Of Lonely,” “You Never Need Nobody,” “You Can Be All Kinds Of Emotional,” “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To,” and “The One You Should’ve Let Go,” are the unfortunate names of some of the songs on the album. It’s possible they named these tracks before they crossed the Mason-Dixon Line and someone forgot to change them. But if you listen to this album like I presume it was meant to be listened to – fully and completely – the names of the songs are irrelevant.
If you’re going to listen to one song on the album, let it be the first, “Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold.” And if you can’t even give me the whole song, listen to the last minute, in particularly at the 3:30 mark, right at the height of the song, in the midst of the pounding drums in the background as the band’s in full-fledged group sing-along mode, when Kanene Pipkin – their female vocalist and mandolin player – delivers the most perfectly timed “Oh-Oh-Oh’s” I’ve ever heard.
The Lone Bellow is not the height of music, but it’s the height of this type of music. They’re a little like Of Monsters and Men, without those two catchy singles and that whole being-from-Iceland vibe they exude. But The Lone Bellow is not a cutesy band like OMAM; they sing with more passion and more soul, and sometime this year they are going to explode.
Of course, if I’m wrong, you never read this.
Note: The only video for the studio version of "Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold" I could find also doubles as a Green Bay Packers highlight video.