We’ve spent the last couple weeks trying to make up for albums that we missed in 2012. But it’s time for the first truly great album of 2013. The Lone Bellow’s self-titled debut is a work of genius, an album that blends vocal harmonies, upbeat Americana sounds, a little bit of country, and awesome songwriting. It’s rare to create an album that sounds unique, that is certain to appeal to rock fans, country fans, and popular music fans, and that is complete and this album is all of those things and more.
The Lone Bellow is a 3 member group, with others along for the ride, of two male vocalists (one lead, one harmony) and guitarists (one lead and one rhythm, though not in the traditional sense) and a female vocalist and mandolin player. It’s a simple concept, but executed perfectly. This is big, loud folk music with all the trimmings, songs about horses, loneliness, regret, and family.
The album starts with a bang with “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold”. It kicks into high gear from the first note, beginning with three part harmonies and the lyrics “Green eyes and a heart of gold,/ All our money’s gone and the house is cold,/ and it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright.” It sets the tone for the album in style and quality. The music is upbeat and the lyrics match in a well crafted love song. The album quickly gets a little more serious with “Tree to Grow”, a deeper and more poetic love song, with a slower pace and a fantastic crescendo. “I’ll never leave, I’ll always stay, I swear on all that I keep safe./ A tree I’ll grow to let you know my love is older than my soul.” Words like these and poetic imagery abound on this album. “Teach Me To Know” is another gem, a minimalist song empowered and brought to life with awesome percussion (shaker, guitar strumming, clapping, bass drum). With a verse that repeats “Carried away”, the song ends with the beautifully written “Teach me to know my number of days,/ Hold out my heart from getting carried.”
The album has some more mellow and serious songs as well. “Two Sides of Lonely” is a heart-wrenching song about loneliness and death, perfectly accompanied with harmonies and piano. When the harmonies form and sing, “Two sides of lonely,/ One is heart, One is duty./ Two sides of lonely,/ One’s in the ground,/ and the other should be”, be prepared to feel some pretty intense emotions. It’s a song that deserves to be listened to alone, in the dark, with your eyes closed. “Looking For You” is the calmest and most personal songs on the album, a song that seems like a love letter meant for the eyes of one person that’s being shared with the world.
Perhaps the best song on the album and an early contender (very early) for song of the year is “You Never Need Nobody”, a song that perfectly describes that woman, the one that you’re always thinking of, the one that’s perfect. “You could break a heart in your sleep,/ Yeah, the way you move makes a grown man weep./ They all line up at your door,/ Yelling Please (Please), Please (Please),/ I can’t take no more.” The lyrics are simple, yet effective at painting the picture of a woman that you feel like you know at the end of the song when they finally sing “I won’t dance around this no more./ I’m the only one you should smile for.”
“You Can Be All Kinds Of Emotional” is a fun song about the ups and downs of relationships. “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To” is one of the more country-fied songs on the album, but it’s very well done. “Fire Red Horse” is a beautiful song about family and death. One of the most interesting songs on the album is “Bleeding Out”, with lyrics like “Breathe it in, breathe it out. The salt in my mouth/ gives me hope that I’ll bleed something worth bleeding out.” It’s a song that’s layered and, even after 15 or so listens I feel like I’m still unpacking this song.
The Lone Bellow, in my opinion, will be this year’s The Lumineers, taking the pop, folk, and country worlds by storm, getting attention from the people at the Grammy’s and going from small shows to touring with OCMS in a few short months. The Lone Bellow is the kind of album that you hear in January and judge every album for the rest of the year in comparison.