Saturday, October 7, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1681: The Lone Bellow

Greeting, gentle readers! I am just home from Seattle and was hoping I’d be adding a review of the Dessa concert I saw there. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled an hour before it was scheduled to start, so no show happened. Sheila and I had a lovely time hanging out in Seattle anyway.

Disc 1681 is…Love Songs for Losers

Artist: The Lone Bellow

Year of Release: 2022

What’s up with the Cover?  The band engages in a slouching competition. These are all the Grade A slouches you would expect from professional musicians enjoying some down time, but I give the victory to Kanene Pipkin. Not only is her slouch deep into “you’ll throw out your back” territory, she hasn’t even bothered to change out of her fancy clothes. That’s the kind of don’t give a damn attitude that brings slouching to another level.

How I Came To Know It: Earlier this year I did a run through artists in my collection to see if I’d missed any good records they’d put out in the last few years. I am discovering new bands all the time, and in the process I sometimes forget to take the time to catch up on bands I already know.

Turns out the Lone Bellow had released this record in 2022 and so, here we are.

How It Stacks Up: I have three Lone Bellow albums. This one is average at best, and I’ll say it is…third.

Rating: 2 stars

I’m not sure why I keep coming back to the Lone Bellow, but here I am again, willingly buying their records. Yes, I’m obsessed with the wonderful “Time’s Always Leaving” but that tune came out six years ago, and even that record is just OK.

There is nothing to get angry at with the Lone Bellow. They are talented musicians, with beautiful voices that they employ to good effect both individually and in harmony. The tunes are inoffensive and catchy, and they go down easy on a drive or a walk.

Maybe this is the problem. This band is a bit too easy. It takes the indie folk/country sound and polishes it too much. That style of music needs some sharp edges, or at least some emotional depth. The Lone Bellow is too “car commercial” perfect.

The production doesn’t help. It is so smooth and perfectly balanced that I found myself restlessly looking for something to catch my attention. But there is nothing to get your hands on. The vocals are smooth, the guitar is rounded, and the bass is nice and even and there to move the 4/4 time along seamlessly and unobtrusively. It started to annoy me that nothing was sufficiently annoying me.

Lyrically, the choices are predictable. Not bad, and often the simple truths that are exactly what your ears want after a long and complicated day at the office. It made me realize that even when my mind is weary, I’m still happier when it is being challenged with something.

There is one side-step. “Cost of Living” is a bluesy lounge tune that fits oddly on the record. Principally it shows off Pipkin’s vocals, which are sweet and pure as all get-out. But just like that expression, they are also nothing you’ve not heard before.

There is a child-like quality to some of the songs. “Wherever Your Heart Is” sounds like something that ingenues would sing on American Idol for Disney night. They’d no doubt sing it beautifully, but I’m sure I’d talk over the performance halfway through rather than be enraptured.

This is even worse on “Unicorn” which takes things from the level of saccharine Disney message and descends into after-school special or maybe some wholesome programming your kids watch on Saturday morning TV after their over-protective parents banned them from enjoying Coyote and the Road Runner.

And yet, ere the end, the Lone Bellow redeem themselves somewhat with a couple of late-breaking tunes that elevate the overall record.

Homesick” is a pretty little country tune that had a zippy boom-chuck guitar strum that I’m a sucker for. The lyrics are as saccharine as ever, with lines like:

“If you're homesick
It's your heart telling your mind that you love somebody
If you got regrets
There's a possibility that you got something to check off your list
It's a long walk home and a short life to live”

About as basic as it gets, but a nice message all the same. It could also have been the pretty mandolin playing from Jason Pipkin (it is nice). Maybe at this point of the record I was finally content to let the Lone Bellow sing their simple truths to me. Maybe my brain had relaxed enough to just enjoy the mental rest. In any event, the song made me feel good.

The final track, “The Great Divide” is the most heartfelt on the record. Zach Williams’ lead vocals are at their best and it felt believable. I felt the awe of the great divide, and the uncertainty and inspiration we feel about life as we stare deeply into nature’s grandeur or our own souls.

But while I liked a couple of songs, it was too little too late for me to likely be playing this record often into the future. I shall be parting with it and hope it finds a home that will love it more than mine.

Best tracks: Homesick, Great Divide

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