New York-based Americana trio The Lone Bellow have been around for a decade now, but their newest release has shown that the folksy group still have plenty of stories left to tell and plenty of new ways to tell them. The group, comprised of lead singer/guitarist Zach Williams, multi-instrumentalist Kanene Donehey Pipkin and guitarist Brian Elmquist (both of whom join Williams on both vocals and songwriting) have just released their fifth studio album, Half Moon Light, produced by The National’s Aaron Desner, who also oversaw their sophomore album, Then Came the Morning.
The album itself is a beautiful showcase of catharsis for every one of the band members, who have all endured shocking amounts of tragedy and hardship in their lives that they admirably translate into soul-shaking music. The group holds tight to its folksy roots on Half Moon Light, but it’s uplifting and spiritual tone often soars into the rafters with clear influence in gospel, soul, and blues.
The chilling story of “Intro”, “Interlude”, and “Finale”, which appear dispersed equally throughout the album, is one unlike any other. The album works around the difficult theme of death, but instead of it being a somber reflection, it’s a triumphantly uplifting celebration of life. This tone is firmly set right from the start with the intro, which showcases Williams’ grandmother bringing the house down in a moving tribute at her husband’s (William’s grandfather) funeral when this old woman, supposedly barely capable of walking, made her way up to the front of the church, kicked the paid musician off the piano, and in the final moments of the packed service, hammered out a soul-shaking medley of songs as a beautiful tribute to her husband of 64 years. Williams later realized in the studio that his dad had recorded the whole thing, and it in turn made its way onto the album. The soulful medley effortlessly manages to tie the album together in a uniquely beautiful way.
In “I Can Feel You Dancing”, Williams and Elmquist send a letter beyond the grave to their own grandfathers, who passed away fairly recently within a couple months of each other. In a showcase to the beautiful celebration of life that takes center stage thematically on this album, the track is a moving ode to life both lived and yet to be lived, as it pays tribute to their loved ones before them but also to the people currently in their life who push them to live to the fullest everyday. Triumphant horns, soaring harmonies, and a comfortingly-grounding drumline decorate the pure and sparkling walls of this number, which embodies what it means to celebrate life.
Explosive blues-rock track “Just Enough to Get By” showcases Pipkin absolutely bringing the house down with earth-shaking vocals and brutally honest storytelling. The ache and grit in the multi-talented musician’s voice bleed onto the emotional track, which tells the story of her mother, who was raped as a teenager and forced to give up the resulting child. 40 years later, that child came back into her life, and all of the emotions that Pipkin clearly felt are laid out for all to see (and feel) on this powerful track. Pipkin usually plays an important role in bringing life to the oh-so-sweet 3 part harmonies that have long been a key weapon in The Lone Bellow’s folksy musical arsenal, so seeing this intensely soulful side of her voice is an impressive display of her dynamism to say the least and a standout moment on the album.
“Good Times” is a mind-bending bout of wild storytelling courtesy of Williams that features piano that is somehow both devilish and gleeful all at once. The track is supported by shouting choruses, which are also featured on “Count on Me”, which celebrates camaraderie and friendship. Songs like “Wash it Clean” and “August” shift the focus back to heavier material. The former features beautifully picked guitar and sliding strings as Elmquist pays tribute to his recently passed father, who he had a difficult relationship with, while the latter is an ode to Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, who tragically passed away in May of 2018.
The trio impressively manages to stay grounded in the music that made their fans fall in love a decade ago while also bravely exploring new genres and themes. Their adventurous musical spirit aside, a constant is the positive light that the band manages to cast over so many difficult stories of hardship and tragedy, and they undoubtedly have a knack for translating those trials into a celebratory story of life.
The Lone Bellow will play at Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City on March 2nd, 2020. Come out with us that night for one of the most entertaining stage performances you’ve ever experienced!
Keep up with The Lone Bellow here.