It’s too early for record-of-the-year proclomations but what the hell.
I spent the best part of a year writing about 42 records and concluded nothing more dramatic than the fact that savouring and appreciating moments was kind of important. A realisation that, for me, music has quite often been a short cut to that: a life hack to suspend thought, banish anxiety, and mainline emotion. It seemed like a hard won lesson, worked out over 40 odd thousand words, and one that I’m guessing wiser folk than me have had sussed for some time. A hard won lesson but one that bears refreshing.
Saw The Lone Bellow at the 100 Club last night. I love the album they put out this year – also called “Then Came The Morning” – and also love their self-titled debut. They’re both exceptionally well crafted slices of whatever we’re calling folk-country-Americana these days: you know, music involving lots of variously numbered stringed instruments. Music that, in the past few years, has moved from being a niche concern to something of a serious mainstream proposition as a genre. So much so that, inevitably, there’s a fair amount of by-the-numbers records being released – country even seems to have spawned its own Dallas-esque TV soap in “Nashville”.
The Lone Bellow make their way through the audience at the 100 Club – got to love those venues where the only route to the stage is through your crowd – and launch straight into “Then Came The Morning”. It is obvious within the first four bars that it is going to be a special night and that they are a special band. You can’t fake heart or soul or guts and from first note to last the band are, for want of a better word, real. There’s no artifice. Whether they’re ripping the place up through “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” or breaking everyone’s heart on “Marietta” or inspiring a hushed audience singalong at the close of “You Never Need Nobody” all of it is anchored in something true.
They’ve got technical chops to die for. I was literally laughing at how absurdly good a singer Zach Williams was last night. First song, utterly slayed it. And then the three part harmonies kicked in and progressively his bandmates, Brian Elmquist and Kanene Pipkin, get their chance to lead a song and laughter dissolves to mild hysteria as it transpires that all three of them are equally good. Individually sensational and together stunning. But it’s not the technical prowess that elevates them beyond the mass of acoustic country-tinged bands working now: it’s the heart and the energy and the passion. Something ineffable.
It is, I guess, slightly hackneyed to talk about music in spiritual terms but on the other hand perhaps there’s good reason why the two often slot together. Spiritual in the broadest sense. In the horizon expanding, inspiring, uplifting, purging, foot stomping, chest beating, heart stopping, life affirming sense. On those terms something spiritual happened in a famous, pokey little club on Oxford Street last night. In very simple terms it was a moment that made me glad to be alive.
Brilliant, brilliant band. Go see them if you can. Buy the records if you can’t. And shortcut yourself to some of those moments worth savouring. That’s all there is.