Thinking of a “Peaceful Dream” to end 2017 without a “Walk Into a Storm”…

As 2017 winds down to its final few hours, I feel like its the perfect time to continue posting more of the end of the year album countdown segments I participated in with Lee Rayburn over on the radio side of my creative work at WHCU. For this first one I chose to bring Mavis Staples’ latest, while Lee did the same with Jason Isbell. More below…

My notes…

If All I Was Was Black continues the run of dark horse brilliance between soul legend Mavis Staples and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, who once again trade musical statements as natural and as free flow as conversation. Whether its Tweedy’s folk guitar mechanics adding warmth to the earthy gospel of “Peaceful Dream”, Staples beautifully empathetic delivery on the contemporary charge of the title track, or the two doing what feels like an overdue vocal duet on the sweet friendship of “Ain’t No Doubt About It”, the pair’s chemistry remains at a strength usually only held by decades long collaborators.

Though despite this Tweedy’s impact remains strictly as the crafty man-in-the-shadows, while Staples is allowed to shine with every bit of the wisdom, poise, and tenacity she’s held in her lengthy career. And in the state of a world today that has drifted further and further into complete upheaval, having a voice like Staples’ preach for love, tolerance and equality is one of the more comforting moments 2017 could actually provide.

We’re lucky for that.

Moving on to #2, where we compare my choice of The Lone Bellow, while Lee brought Big Thief to the conversation…

My thoughts…

Walk Into a Storm finds The Lone Bellow continuing to build off the momentum of prior release Then Came The Morning, which saw the band work with The National’s Aaron Dessner on a bigger sound that didn’t quite abandon their folks roots (see: Mumford & Sons) so much as expand them into new territories.

Now with Nashville producer extraordinaire Dave Cobb at the helm, third album Storm didn’t try to go even bigger and risk ruining the essence of whats in the band’s wheelhouse (again, see Mumford & Sons). Instead, its content with punching in the best of the band’s new material which crackles with bristling energy (“Deeper in the Water”, “Feather”), brakes appropriately for the introspective moments (“May You Be Well”, “Long Way To Go”), and shows that Storm is another essential listening moment on The Lone Bellow’s musical journey.

Whether its StormMorning, or the band’s self-titled debut, to truly understand them best requires reading each chapter carefully. They won’t make you regret it.

Keep an eye for #1 on the list in just a few days! 

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2015: It’s The Greatest Hits Edition!

Well, it’s that time again. The Christmas decorations have been put away, the food and sweets have been consumed in exhaustive amounts, and the trash has all been swept out from another Times Square New Years Eve celebration. It’s January of 2016 now, and usually that’s the time people have prepared their quick-to-be-broken resolutions, trim the caloric leftovers caused by all those food and sweets, and prepare for the long road of despising much of the year ahead.

But enough about my intended plans.

These earlier days of the new year are also an excellent time to look back. To take a wistful glance at the greatest hits and a look at the best of what was in a 2015 with plenty of was nots. And when it came to music, while the content may not have quite been as strong as the year before, my choice for the Top 10 Albums of the Year was certainly still just as difficult.

So let’s get to the heart of the matter now, starting off with….

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10. Tobias Jesso Jr, Goon

2015 was a big year for the Canadian-born singer-songwriter, who rose from the ranks of several years of struggling obscurity to co-writing songs for Adele’s new album 25 by year’s end. But in between that the biggest springboard to Jesso’s newly risen star has been none other than his stellar solo debut Goon, which took Jesso’s recently learned piano wielding skills to wounded heights akin to the likes of John Lennon, Carole King and Harry Nilsson. And while not exactly blessed with the strongest of singing voices, Jesso makes up for that with a keen sense of winsome poetry, a touch of wry humor, and an embodiment of the soul of Brill Building songwriters past.

And if 2015 has been anything as we start off this list, it’s a great reminder that this generation of talent hasn’t forgotten the power of what made the musical past so potent. And for Jesso, well… talk about a hell of a year.

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9. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

I was first introduced to Jason Isbell back in 2013 with the release of Southeastern, and while it didn’t immediately capture my attention the album was ultimately a soul-destroying reflection on death, sobriety, and the burning up of the skeletons in Isbell’s closet. It marked the strongest solo album to date from the newly-clean and focused artist, and Something More Than Free came along this year as the next logical chapter in that train of thought.

The record doesn’t quite carry the dark potency of Southeastern, but being once again reunited with super-producer Dave Cobb and a brighter point of view has done nothing to slow the brilliance of Isbell’s creativity. He still writes with all the intricate lyrical nuance of one of the best country folk musicians in the business (i.e. a modern Kris Kristofferson in many ways), and has the acumen to jump from folk to blues and rock n roll and back again, with the vocals to match.

I do maintain that Isbell’s live performances surpass his albums overall, but Something More Than Free marks the continued strength of passage of an artist coming up from the darkness and back out into the light. And I for one, am ready to hear each story all along the way.

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8. Gary Clark Jr, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim

When Gary Clark Jr hit the scene with his 2012 debut record Blak and Blu, it was a revelation to the world of blues. Hailed by the likes of Alicia Keys and other such luminaries, Clark’s mixture of blues, R&B and soul seemed like the next recipient of the scepter as older artists of the craft such as BB King, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton have either died too soon or started to slowly fade into the sunset (with King unfortunately passing away this year).

And while some have called Clark’s blues credentials less than “authentic” because of his genre-ranging style, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim laid some of those unjust criticisms to rest (at least from my perspective). Clark brought his sound closer to the bone on this one with the gospel of “Church” and the croon of “Our Love”, while still showing how much he could shred on tracks like “Grinder” and “The Healing”. It may not have come in at number 1 on this list, but it is the latest in some of the finest work that young blues still has to offer this world.

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7. Glen Hansard, Didn’t He Ramble

In 2015 there were certainly a number of surprises that ranked on this list, and while Glen Hansard was right up there he wasn’t the most unknown to me by any means. In 2007 the Irish-born former street musician and member of The Frames was brought to prominence when he and Marketa Irglova starred together in the John Carney music film Once, and probably broke a few million hearts in the process with the tender wrenching ache of breakthrough single “Falling Slowly”.

This time around Hansard went solo with the gentle grace of Didn’t He Ramble, and while some longtime fans didn’t necessarily agree with some of the instrumentation present, in my opinion it was impossible to ignore Hansard’s usual penchant for songwriting as well as sheer accessibility. “Grace Beneath The Pines”, “Paying My Way” and “Stay The Road” kept that highway to the heart lines wide open, while “Wedding Ring” and “Lucky Streak” painted those same lines with a lighter brush of charm along the way.

It’s music like this that keeps my heart searching for just a little more. Just a few more stories please, as long as they’re as good as this.

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6. Butch Walker, Afraid of Ghosts

This year featured a lot of wonderful music, wonderful songs, and as I just mentioned in that Glen Hansard bit a moment ago, a lot of stories. But none perhaps more beautifully poignant than Butch Walker’s emotional masterpiece Afraid of Ghosts.

Inspired by the death of Butch’s father Butch Sr, Walker’s traditionally pop-rock oriented sound took a broad left turn into a lo-fi, bare bones mosaic of textures the likes of which Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska might certainly appreciate. And with Ryan Adams at the helm producing the kind of sound his own records lack for currently, Walker couldn’t have found a better set of companions to take this cathartic journey alongside.

As a result, Ghosts shines with the kind of magic that’s as deeply prolific as it is personal, and shows off the deepest and darkest light of Walker’s creative career after his more than 20 years in the industry.

Thankfully (much like a story we’ll get to later), Butch Walker stepped out from behind the shadow of the producer’s chair to give us this. It’s deeply sad that it comes from this place of remembrance and eulogy, but Ghosts is undeniably relatable and immersive all the same. Don’t let this one pass you by.

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5. Wilco, Star Wars

In the years since becoming a Wilco fan (around the Sky Blue Sky era), I began to slowly wish for an album that could be as diverse and bizarrely odd-rocking as staples Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. Sure, Sky contained the kind of roots-rock and quieter moments that lead man Jeff Tweedy could pull off in his sleep, but after muddy retreads Wilco (The Album) and The Whole Love it felt like the band was past due for a record that felt… more cohesively dynamic. More sure of the direction it wanted to take.

Then in June of this year, the group rediscovered that spark with the surprise release (and curiously titled) Star Wars. And while it isn’t a Yankee or Ghost (or an intricate concept album about Luke Skywalker and the Sith Empire), it was a shot of electricity hearkening back to the band’s knack for exploration. From the moment “EKG” and it’s opening clatter of explosive instrumental defibrillation kicks in, Star Wars is an adventure of Lou Reed-esque Velvet Underground psychedelics, caffeinated jitter-rock, and lyrics that dash from off the wall to that same quiet still Wilco has made it’s specialty amidst all the tumult.

It’s the type of album that takes the muscle of the past and breathes the life of where the band is now into it’s every ligament. And coming from this sole perspective, it was eagerly missed.

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4. The Lone Bellow, Then Came The Morning

In 2013, a little country-folk trio out of Park Slope in Brooklyn started to come out of the woodwork of the still-newly relevant folk scene popularized by the likes of Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers with their initial self-titled debut. And while they’ve progressed and started to show the world their electrifying stage persona, the comparisons might still remain but Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin and Brian Elmquist have begun to forge into a realm entirely their own with 2015’s Then Came The Morning.

With The National’s guitarist Aaron Dessner at the production helm as opposed to well known Civil Wars producer Charlie Peacock, the shiny folk-based residue of their first LP was replaced by instrumentation that wiped off the polish in favor of something more organic and…. flavorfully ornate. Morning edged much further towards bigger sounds in retro rock, country and gospel while splitting singing duties between all three vocalists this time around, and as a result the band looks poised to take their success onward and upward in 2016. All while helping to define a little “Brooklyn country” along the way.

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3. Adele, 25

With powerhouse albums 19 and 21 already under her belt since her debut in 2008, Adele Adkins had already easily reached the echelon of mononym status reserved for the likes of Prince, Cher, and Sting. And while she may not have made any doves weep with envy (yet), one had to wonder if the third time would still be the charm with this past year’s release of 25.

Well luckily, despite a four year wait the British balladeer had no plans of settling into a slump. Buoyed by the strength of monster singles “Hello” and “When We Were Young” and backed by strong co-writers Tobias Jesso Jr, Bruno Mars, Greg Kurstin and Ryan Tedder, Adele once again owned every note to come out of these 11 tracks. Whether it was wrapped in jazz, stripped to the nuts and bolts acoustics, or soaring on gilded wings into the highest heavens, 25 was one of the most impressive this year simply because of how controlled every ounce of it’s strength was. Rarely do albums come along that feel so perfectly grasped, and as usual Adele makes no question when it comes to owning her music. In fact, she doesn’t own it…. she dominates every fiber.

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2. Ivy, Beck & Neill, Live at Rockwood Music Hall

This year offered several boosts to the Brooklyn country music scene, and arguably one of the best was the debut of Ivy, Beck & Neill’s Live at Rockwood Music Hall. It was the first proper recording for the band (and the only live album on this list), and ranks in this high for good reason.

Featuring a sparsely acoustic backing band, the trio of Trisha Ivy, Mike Beck and Amanda Neill dazzle the New York City room with twining harmonies and as much sense for gleeful energy as gorgeously dusky gloom. Listening to Ivy and Neill sing together is like finding the kind of blues-folk collaborative spark Melissa Ethridge and Natalie Maines would be jealous of, and when you add on the band’s talent for songwriting and a rare kind of chemistry to go along with it… well, as IB&N’s song “Texas” goes, you got all you really need.

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1. Chris Stapleton, Traveller

Going into the category of both my biggest surprise of the year as well as biggest breakthrough, Chris Stapleton’s Traveller is a powerhouse album of country music that reminds me of why I’ve never lost faith in the genre. Despite the presence of so-called “bro country”, despite the nasal goose-honk vocalizing, beer swilling, tractor riding mainstream stereotypes that litter today’s excuse for the charts…. Chris Stapleton flies in the face of it all. And not only that, he’s written with great success for many of these artists as he’s had notable collaborations with the likes of Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan and Darius Rucker with plenty still to spare.

Thankfully, Stapleton finally stepped out from behind the shadows of ghostwriting this year to deliver a debut that had all the heart and soul of what made old school country music so relevant in the first place. Plus, unlike his “peers” from today’s industry Stapleton brings to his writing a sense of gritty hard soul with a killer voice to match scenes of whiskey, women, religion, having the blues and getting stoned. Not to mention having his extremely talented wife Morgane alongside to harmonize, which is just icing on the cake.

In closing I’ll say this much, Chris Stapleton’s coming out party performing with Justin Timberlake at the CMA’s earlier this past year was just the overdue match to light the hot streak he was already on. And if you don’t believe music can save your soul, just put on Traveller and it’s closing track “Sometimes I Cry”.

Something tells me, you might just change your mind.

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The Lone Bellow: Three Sides of Anything But Lonely….

Oh Brooklyn. You’ve killed me with blazing heat, taunted me with snow and have shown me so many frigid nights that I’ve blown more smoke out of my mouth than a Cheech & Chong film. But still, you keep me coming back. Why is this you ask? Well the music for one, and the continued lure that is local band The Lone Bellow. Prospect Park, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall… the hits have just kept coming since the folk-rockers first broke on to the scene with their 2013 self-titled debut. And sure some of those have wandered a bit closer to the city than Brooklyn, but for 2015 the trio of Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist broke out an exciting two-fold surprise! Firstly, they snapped the curse of the sophomore slump by releasing a superb new album called Then Came The Morning back in January with The National’s Aaron Dessner producing. Then, on the heels of what eventually became an entirely SOLD OUT tour, the much-beloved trio announced that the end of that tour’s first leg would coincide with Brooklyn dates in the Bowery Ballroom as well as the Music Hall of Williamsburg. So as naturally as Batman is called off to fight crime, yours truly responded to the Band-Aid Signal (watch Almost Famous ), found the nearest train and headed due south! Well, it’s more like… going east to go south and there are a LOT of stops, but… that’s not the point. The point is, March 25th and 26th found me front and center to not only see my favorite modern band, but one of the best bands PERIOD. 11082518_431419187022105_9132157320126091366_n

And while I wanna jump right into the action of those two nights, I have to put the brakes on for a moment and acknowledge both the Bowery and Williamsburg. It was my first time experiencing each, and while both are very similar I can’t think of two venues in recent memory that I’ve had more fun being in. 1908275_429246023906088_1456311416115327237_n 11038873_429723223858368_8254736110079099515_n

They’re both extremely intimate (thumbs up from me already), barely-balconied and standing room, without a bad angle of the stage from any side. Not that I was focused much on that in my initial rush to hit the front row, but later I observed just how brilliant the perspectives were from spots around each venue. If I had been of a more casual mindset, I could easily see either the Bowery or Williamsburg being a great place to just tune out to a night of laid back music. Their stage lighting… now that’s a bit of a different story. If I could describe it simply, I would take it in stages. Sometimes it actually looked like watching a great folk band with influences of gospel, blues, country and alternative elements being naturally lit. Then suddenly a transformation would take place (same band mind you), only NOW… I felt like Chvrches or Zola Jesus was committing technicolor sabotage due to some kind of folk-hating grudge. Or in the case of Williamsburg, the crowd would suddenly be bathed in a floodlight so bright it felt like a musical version of Cops was about to take place.   My riffing aside though, lets forget about putting on those brakes and get to why you’re all reading this piece: THE MUSIC. The Lone Bellow. At home in Brooklyn. The trio that made your hearts soar and break, live and in person with a backing band expanded to include horn players (for two nights only!) that helped make the sound of this new record so beautifully glorious. Like a match that went up to heaven, and made it just for your ears. And within these churches of music, within those expectations and hopes and ever-mounting anticipation, The Lone Bellow laid down two sermons of such fiery passion to the congregation that I think Satan himself was keeping watch for the hellhound on his trail.

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From the first moment on the first night in Bowery Ballroom when Zach rushed to the edge of the stage, mic torn from it’s stand as he sang the very fibers out of the new album’s title track… I knew I was home.  Every bit of sweat from his brow I felt like my own, felt like the crowd’s own as we all bled his spirit back to him. Back to Brian, back to Kanene, back to them all. It’s why Lone Bellow fans are some of the easiest and most wonderful to talk to at shows. They’ve experienced that collective emotion and that healing catharsis that’s so startlingly intense… it’s nearly painful. When you talk to them (much like with the band), it’s like talking to family. And in terms of a familial experience, we got two nights of nothing less than the band leaving themselves out there completely. Zach stood out on the title track and left my hair standing on end with “Marietta”, “Take My Love” and personal favorite “Tree To Grow”, while Brian (with his rebellious curl of hair) owned the stark “Watch Over Us” and the choogling gravel of “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” (with Zach providing a homemade choir in the midst of the crowd). Never to be left out though, the ever-angelic Kanene both broke and mended my soul with her latest song “Call To War”, and destroyed a cover of “Slip Slidin Away” that left the crowd absolutely breathless. Okay I can’t speak for the crowd, but to see her hold out her hands and fiercely belt those words into a single mic… she destroys that song. Paul Simon should be bowing down to her. 10409703_429834450513912_3410445970402907472_n

And of course as anyone who’s been to enough Lone Bellow shows will tell you, the band did manage to flex their crazy knack for some unpredictable song medleys. One moment Zach and Brian were bromancing it out with some of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You”, in another Brian was rapping over Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”, and in yet ANOTHER the trio took on some classic 80’s rock with Prince’s “Purple Rain”. That last one may not have gone over too well according to the band, but the audience was absolutely in love with every second! Maybe that whole wedding band thing could work out after all….

So… what shows. What fun. What body weight lost from perspiration. Pretty much the whole, delicious musical sundae right? Not quite. Much like how once Batman starts fighting crime he can’t seem to stop, the Band Aid Signal beckoned once more and brought with it… massive train failure! I don’t exactly think that’s part of the band-aid contract, but it did put a pretty nice cherry on that sundae…

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Enter the cherry: The Lone Bellow’s Soundcheck session and WNYC’s Greene Space. I had heard that this session would be taking place shortly after I left the city, but thanks to whatever divine intervention is responsible for train failure, I found myself in a room of 30-40 people along with these wonderful talents. 22706_431418333688857_4181543346400507929_n 11102741_431427843687906_6575469327326800849_n

Sounds pretty good right? Unfortunately (and it’s a minor unfortunately), the whole gathering was only about an hour or so. Still, it was wonderful to hear the band run through four new songs from the record, do a small interview, and take some questions from the crowd. I personally thought the interview segment wasn’t necessary, but as the video below shows I think it went pretty well anyway.

But now I’m back home again, and my review is at an end for this post. Honestly the Lone Bellow material is barely half of my fun Brooklyn music stories, but I think I’ll save the rest of the trip for another post. Until then, I leave you with a picture from Bowery Ballroom. If nothing else I’ve said has convinced you about The Lone Bellow, if my review and my words and my feelings have not done it, read these faces. They’ll tell all the rest of the story that needs to be explained. Oh and Brooklyn? Thanks again. 10997715_429745293856161_2007159500268163582_n

(both videos and all photos but the last courtesy of Mara S., or @watchingforthesigns on Instagram)

Album Review, The Lone Bellow “Then Came The Morning”

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(not the right cover, blame Google images)

It certainly seems as though waiting on The Lone Bellow to offer up their second album has been a lifetime in the making (give or take an impatient infinity or two). After a point the release process started to feel like a war of attrition as announcements like album title, track list and singles started to slowly bleed through to the spotlight like sand through an hourglass. So it goes in the casual day to day to life of a music fan when confronted by the notion of a far off release date though I suppose.

But thankfully time can be a blessing (at least in this regard), and as I write this we stand upon the eve of the official release for Then Came The Morning. I’ve had many thoughts and emotions about this record after almost a solid week of listening now, and while I could include more notes and details about the blessing of having songs like Marietta or Fake Roses in the world (or the band’s appearance on the Letterman show tonight), I’m simply going to let the video I made speak for me.

So go check out my Youtube album review for The Lone Bellow in the little link down there below, and DO check out the Bellow on Letterman tonight. I’ve heard they’re going to be accompanied by an 11-piece band, and it promises to be a good one!

First Thoughts: The Lone Bellow, “Then Came The Morning”

This is only my 20th post on record for my WordPress blog, but oh… is it a big one. As I type this I perch cross-legged on my bed here in Upstate New York, while my girlfriend (the biggest Lone Bellow fan I know) is in Brooklyn blasting the band’s latest record Then Came The Morning out of her television set thanks to NPR First Listen. Not exactly a high rate of quality over our shared phone call, but it’s more about the sharing than it is the inner audiophile.

For you see, this is our band. It’s been since our initial discovery of their work in early 2013 (as I chronicled a few posts ago), and since that time their debut and every live show since has been building to this moment. This next step, the divide between the brilliance of a musical beginning and the wonder of what the next steps down the path might hold for a trio as gifted as these Bellow are. And Then Came The Morning is holding up it’s end of the bargain. 

I’ve covered a lot of music and heard a lot of songs since I started making music as essential as the life blood in my veins, but few have made an impact and a cut as deep as The Lone Bellow. Few bands have left a space of anticipation in my heart as deep and nerve-wracking as a chasm waiting for that next bit of new material, this next bit of material. Then Came The Morning soars like birds would be envious to (“Call To War”, “Telluride”), snaps along a jagged blues rocking edge (“If You Don’t Love Me”,  “Cold As It Is”, “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home”), and cuts to the very marrow of music at it’s most real (“Watch Over Us”, “Marietta”, “Fake Roses”).

And that’s always been the thing about The Lone Bellow. From the very earliest origin of frontman Zach Williams’ pre-Bellow solo album Story Time to the here and now listening to these new stories, these chances to gather around and be spellbound all over again. They’re real and as honest as ourselves and the faces we pass most days, some of which we know and some we never will. I can sit inside these tales and feel like just for a fraction of a moment, I lived them or broke my heart to them or experienced something truly otherworldly in their smallest sparks of simple joy.

Joys, sadness, a heavy turn before the shadows leave and the sun can rise again…. this band doesn’t hesitate before taking whatever road lies ahead. To Zach…. Kanene Pipkin… Brian Elmquist. Thank you for not only providing those roads for these days ahead whatever they may be, but for bringing two people together in the love of music no matter how far they may be physically.

I sit here now after one whole turn through Then Came The Morning, deep in phone discussion over tracklists, Aaron Dessner production (you magnificent bastard), early critiques and just… soaking it in. Never more excited at the glorious possibility of music from three people who feel so much like friends and beautiful acquaintances. Never more excited to share it with one of the people I care about most in the whole world.

I guess all that’s left to say for now is, so when are you three coming to play some concerts?

To Brooklyn, With Love: A Year’s Retrospective

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A lot can happen in a year. I like to think that in 24 of them perhaps I’ve begun to peck at the grains of sand on this eternal beach; maybe taken something back with me that’s going to last. Though more often than not when I think of the years I’ve had, I come to the conclusion that I’ve been asleep until this last one. That the womb isn’t just nine months, but a gestation of years to not only stand on my own two feet, but to feel the dunes etched beneath them when the moments become mine. When these months became mine.

And if I were to confide that in a postcard and take the time to send it anywhere, I would send it with my thanks to music. I would send it with white roses care of love. And I would send it to Brooklyn, where the brightest stars that could ever hope to burn in my night sky began where music and love met with you.

Enter Brooklyn’s Bandshell in the summer of 2013, when the tail of my comet was just arching across that orange sky with yours. Between the sting of the heavy raindrops that day we crossed paths with a young debuting Brooklyn band called The Lone Bellow, and out under that lit up night sky we were forever changed by Zach, Kanene and Brian’s music. “Watch Over Us” hung like a prayer left wondering, their unexpected take on “Angel From Montgomery” dazzled with raw power, and the trio moved like a wrecking ball of intimate catharsis and razor wired passion. I had never felt more alive seeing three people leave every ounce of themselves bleeding out and spent on a stage before. It would never have meant as much as it has to my life since though, were it not for you.

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The Lone Bellow became our music, our discovery so special that it’s become worthy of a movie like “Almost Famous”. Which is ironic considering that several months after the Bandshell came that hometown show for the trio at NYC’s Carnegie Hall, in which getting second row tickets (on that tip from Zach himself) landed us smack dab in the middle of a family reunion. Thanks to that one little conversation with him at the Bandshell, we went from what were simply good seats to a backstage meeting arranged by his mother and the six best words every obsessed music fan wants to hear, “don’t worry…. you’re with the mom”. It was in the span of this night that I think we actually lived a part of “Almost Famous”, and from then on… well, we’re gonna be forever tied to one of our favorite bands of all time.

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And of course there was your fan request in Geneva’s Smith Opera House this year for new song “Diners”, talking casually outside the Smith with Kanene who REMEMBERED us (which will never cease to blow my mind), crazy speculating on their next album (followed by many continued plays of that homemade “Then Came The Morning” bootleg), and watching the band come home again to Lincoln Center just a month ago to play alongside the likes of the famed Roseanne Cash. I could recount to you a mountain of these memories (and the greatest crowd rebellion known to music at that very Lincoln Center show) and I still don’t think it could begin to be a ripple on the surface of that pond. Every note, every bend, every cue and every Zach as Tarzan chest pound…. is like standing in the echo chamber and behind the wizard’s curtain of music and it’s beating heart. And that’s less of a postcard and more of a love letter when it gets right down to it.

I suppose that’s what this is too. I started to write these recollections imagining them for the consumption of a faceless somebody, but instead that face became etched with so many things so personal to me. This band. This year. You. Getting to write the most meaningful musical words I can think of that I didn’t wanna share with just a somebody, but the ones I wanted to share with MY somebody. Even if we’ve already taken the steps in this dance together and know it’s rhythm, it was this beat I’d been waiting for longer than I ever could have guessed in all these years.

As Zach says in “Two Sides of Lonely”, we were alone together in Brooklyn. Little did I know that was the best place to start, pinkies entwined.

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Intimacy; Intensity Define “Bellow” At Geneva’s Smith Opera House

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Given the rate and continuous high energy of the Lone Bellow’s still-ongoing tour schedule, it’s not only remarkable to think this band has only existed since last year, but that I have to keep trying to pick out a favorite performance. Before now, I’d seen the red hot trio that is Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist deliver their unique brand of hometown “Brooklyn country music” under the star-lined trees of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, within the illustrious confines of the staggering Carnegie Hall, and between the soon-vacated tables of Buffalo NY’s understated venue The Tralf. So needless to say, the bar was set fairly high above the ground going into this one.

Enter June 7th with Geneva NY’s Smith Opera House, which provided a blend of that small venue intimacy against the continued backdrop of Western New York’s highly underrated theatre culture. While it may not have the name recognition of a Carnegie or the talent pool of a Broadway, the historical value of places like the Smith add both character and in most cases, exceptional acoustics for concerts or events like this. But back to my point here.

The music. While it was a headlining night for one of Brooklyn’s finest new bands, Rochester NY’s own Roses & Revolutions weren’t about to be left out of the equation. Duo Alyssa Coco and Matt Merritt mesmerized the crowd with a stripped-down set of songs that showcased their deeply talented pop/singer-songwriter blend, led by Coco’s rich vocals and Merritt’s spaciously appealing guitar. The two danced nimbly between originals from a couple of EP’s in their forty minute performance, along with a dash of reinvented covers that included Coldplay’s “The Scientist” and Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. While kept at a musical pace that was largely quiet and contemplative, the mood of the two Roses was a mellowing yet uplifting fit for the spell of the evening.

And not a moment too soon, because then it was time to be witness to what I can only swear is one of the holiest experiences in all of music: The Lone Bellow. The three took to the stage(accompanied by drummer Brian Griffin and bassist Jason Pipkin) and immediately launched into a new song called “I Let You Go”, which felt like taking a slow, deep breath of country-folk before deciding to skydive down into it. Frontman Zach Williams, bedecked in a collared shirt and suspenders that made him look like the protagonist of a 40’s detective film, soon had the crowd dashing from the seats to the stage as he and his bandmates stomped, clapped, riffed and harmonized through most of the songs off their debut release, as well as a few previews of what might follow later this year.

As utterly heartrending as he could be exuberant, Williams’ Tarzan leaps, flying clouds of sweat and brilliant musicianship could only be matched by the sheer talent of his counterparts. Brian Elmquist’s contributions were a powerhouse for much of the evening, mixing Carl Perkins-esque riffing(“Georgia Will”), intense leads(“Diners”), and aching gospel folk(“Watch Over Us”) into the group’s new songs, while Kanene Pipkin continues to be one of the most powerfully dynamic female vocals on the rustic side of indie music. She simultaneously commands and demands attention simply through her voice, and songs like “Button” and “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To” shine because of it.

Combine that with their ability to be cued and attuned to one another, and I feel like intimate shows this powerfully bled out onto the stage are only going to become more rare for The Lone Bellow as they move onto their sophomore record and the popularity that will inevitably follow it. Someday I’ll have to say “I knew them when”, but as Sheryl Crow would say, for now “I’m gonna soak up the sun”.