The Lone Bellow storms folk-rock party
Nashville, Tenn. • The members of The Lone Bellow were standing around after opening for Dwight Yoakam at a recent show when they overheard three good ol' boys discussing their music.
One turned to the other and asked what kind of music they'd just heard. Was it country or folk or rock or gospel?
"And then one of the guys goes, 'That there was Brooklyn country,'" Kanene Pipkin said. "Isn't that perfect?"
That trio of Yoakam fans unknowingly coined an ideal term to describe the current folk-rock movement and one of its rising stars. The Lone Bellow has been on something of a run since releasing its self-titled debut album in January, distinguishing itself from the banjo-toting crowd in Brooklyn with a big sound that's drawing a lot of attention.
The trio arrives at a fortuitous time and bearing the hallmarks of the movement's most popular bands. Lead singer Zach Williams has the same kind of smoky, soulful voice as Mumford & Sons lead singer Marcus Mumford. And the band favors the emotionally varied boy-girl harmonies that have helped The Lumineers become one of music's surprise success stories. The Lone Bellow also shares producer Charlie Peacock with The Civil Wars.
"I feel like there's definitely some sort of movement going on and I'm honored that people lump us on that list because that music has moved me personally," Williams said.
It's moving more and more new fans each day, taking in willing converts the way The Lone Bellow did on a recent two-night stand with Yoakam in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Yoakam draws a crazy-quilt melange of fans, from deep-woods traditional country diehards to coffee-sipping, Americana-loving hipsters.
Each night the trio of Williams, Pipkin and Brian Elmquist drew in the crowd quickly, won them over with a sound that's more electrified than their peers and earned standing ovations something more difficult to pull off in apathetic Nashville than a hit single.
They're sure they did it with their music Williams neglected to even tell the crowd the band's name on the first night. Midway through their set fans were singing along to music they'd never heard before, picking up on the chorus and joining their voices.
"That's what seems to be happening at live shows," Elmquist said. "We're seeing people start to sing along. We're not asking them to. They're singing. They're singing over top of us sometimes. So it's a beautiful thing to be a part of."
The new album is no rehash of current trends. The trio recorded it 2 1/2 years ago with Peacock in New York and Nashville and held onto it until they found a management and label team they felt comfortable with.
And unlike their counterparts in the movement, they're not a strictly an acoustic affair. A once-sacriligious kick drum isn't uncommon in today's folk-rock alignment. But The Lone Bellow named for a particularly scary childhood night Williams endured on his grandparents' farm that included a haunting bull's bellow kicks it up even more with a full drum kit, electric guitar and a willingness to rock.
Though based in Brooklyn now, Williams and Elmquist grew up in rural Georgia, while Pipkin was raised in Virginia. Williams said he grew up listening to The Judds, The Highwaymen and other rocking '80s country acts while at his grandparents'. They also incorporate R&B and gospel melodies into their sound.
They all came to Brooklyn looking to make the same kind of human connection they'd grown up with in the country. Their music has been the perfect conduit.
"I definitely think folk music in its very essence is communal," Pipkin said. "It's people getting together and playing instruments and singing harmonies, and all doing it in a room together, as opposed to somebody creating something by themselves on a computer. And I think our generation has so much time by themselves at a computer that folk music is something that feels a little more organic or tangible."