You know, I really try to stay professional and unbiased when I write my album reviews, but I have to be completely honest with you… I am losing my mind over The Lone Bellow’s debut album!
I also try to shy away from lengthy back-stories, but how this band came to be is nothing short of miraculous and the story needs to be heard. Zach Williams, the main songwriter and singer’s wife was injured so badly in a horseback riding accident that doctors believed she had become a paraplegic. She, thankfully and amazingly, recovered after months of physical therapy. Throughout that time, Williams had started writing down thoughts and poetry in a journal as an outlet for him to express what he and his wife were going through. He started to read entries to his close friends, who told him to start putting his poetry to music. Once his wife had recovered, they decided to move to New York City where they could pursue this newfound creative outlet. He started off solo, but shortly found the other core members of what would become The Lone Bellow, the incredibly talented Kanene Pipkin and Brian Elmquist.
I’ve said it before and it has never held more true, the greatest songs come out of necessity – the feeling is pure, vulnerable, and always relatable. I have never in my life gone through what Williams has gone through, yet I feel everything he feels; the lyrical imagery takes you to exactly where he was and what he felt in those moments. Add driving guitar that only folky country gospel (it’s totally a thing) can bring, and harmonies that will make you weak in the knees (well, that’s what they do to me, at least) and you’ve got something unstoppable. Now, onto the music…
“Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” starts off the album with the in your face harmonies they are going to be known for, and one of the most memorable choruses I’ve heard in years; a toe tapping song of cautious hope and defiance in a time of serious struggle. The Lone Bellow has perfected the art of putting fun, dance-around-your-house music to lyrics that should make you cry, using the same idea (on purpose or not) in “Teach Me To Know”, “The One You Should’ve Let Go”, and “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To”, a personal favorite with a nod to Hank Williams that I love.
The album slows down by the second track, “Tree to Grow”- a song about working through low points in a relationship, and having a love and commitment deep enough to make it through. This song literally makes my heart ache… so deeply personal, yet entirely relatable to the listener. The pain and inner battle comes to a head at the bridge, where he confesses through those beautiful harmonies, “I’ll never leave/ I’ll always stay/ I swear on all that I keep safe/ but it gets harder”. The majority of the album is on the slower side of the metronome, but please don’t get me wrong, that does not mean this is music to put on while you do dishes. All of these songs have one thing in common –perfectly crafted, breathtaking bridges. As a songwriter, I am in awe of the power and raw emotion they pour into the last minute and a half of each song, it’s something I practically kill myself over and they do it effortlessly.
Now, if you aren’t sold yet, I’ve been saving my three favorite moments on this album for last. First, the very last line in “Two Sides of Lonely”… it moves me to tears every time I hear it. See how I’m not telling you the line so you have to go listen? You’re welcome in advance. Second, my favorite song on the album, “Bleeding Out”- tucked in with all of these songs of sadness and anger, there is this beautiful, anthemic song of courage and hope, where he is pleading with life to make what he’s gone through worthwhile – “Remind us our days are all numbered, not spent/ and peace, it comes easy, like mist on a ridge”. It’s this remarkable glimmer of light, and I absolutely cannot get enough. Last, the breathtaking, heart wrenching imagery in “Looking For You”- while they don’t spell out exactly what happened, it’s clear there was a fading of love and a desperation to have it back to how it was- “I’ve counted the cost of this loneliness/I’ve paid for the crime/ and someday I’ll die with you in my mind”.
That’s all I’ve got! If you still aren’t sold, definitely take a listen for yourself. With a tour with one of my all time favorites, The Civil Wars, under their belt and a recent performance on Conan, it won’t be long before you hear them anyway!
Check ’em out here: The Lone Bellow – “You Never Need Nobody”