While it has always been hard to pigeonhole the sound of Nashville’s The Lone Bellow with their eclectic mix that spans the American musical lexicon, that just got even harder to do as their latest album, Half Moon Light (Dualtone), finds the core trio of Zach Williams, Kanene Donehey Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist growing artistically and using their considerable musical, vocal, and songwriting talents to continue to forge a unique and quintessential American sound all their own, defying the notion that their soaring music can be pinned down to any one genre.
Starting with a heavy folk and country base, one also hears the influence of blues, gospel, bluegrass, and the early rockers in these character-driven and beautifully layered songs. Aaron Dessner of The National is the perfect producer for this prodigiously talented band as on this record he hones the band’s wide-ranging sound into a collection of songs that stay in your head lyrically and musically for days.
With the exuberant “Good Times,” the life-affirming “Count on Me,” the seething “Just Enough To Get By,” the heart wrenching “Illegal Immigrant,” the unbridled optimism of “Friends,” and the impassioned questioning of “Dust Settles,” and the other songs on this album, it is apparent by this record’s end that you are listening to what will become one of America’s greatest musical trios who are telling interconnecting and universal stories about modern-day America that deserve a wide listening audience.
This album’s overall lasting impression is succinctly summarized by its bookends – the intro and outro – which are both pieces of a poignant recording of Williams ‘ grandmother singing and playing piano at his grandfather’s funeral. The inclusion of the recording is an emotional and artistic masterstroke, as it creates an atmospheric and awakening fade in and a mesmerizing and spiritual fade out to the record in which we hear the clapping, yelling and emotional pleas of the mourners.
It’s as if this collection of songs by this band is saying to all of us that while there are bad things that happen to all of us including death, there are also good things that happen and that this life we all have at this moment should be celebrated by those of us still here amongst the living. Which is quite a resonating message given the uncertain and unsettling times we are all living in and through.