The Lone Bellow
October 13, 2014 8:00 pm - October 14, 2014 12:00 am
Presented by KRCL 90.9 FM
Zach Williams, the Lone Bellow's lead singer and principal songwriter, can pinpoint just about exactly when the Brooklyn-based group serendipitously willed itself into being. It was around 9 a.m. one morning in 2010, at Dizzy's Diner in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where the Lone Bellows guitarist and Williams' old friend Brian Elmquist was working a shift. Williams, up to then performing as a solo artist, needed a place to try out some new songs; for a scuffling artist, the diner was as good as any rehearsal space. He asked fellow singer Kanene Pipkin, just returned to New York City from living in Beijing, to meet them at the diner and the trio did more than merely jam. With the beginnings of a repertoire and an already strong communal spirit, that fateful morning they became the Lone Bellow. As Williams recalls, "Three songs in I realized I should quit what I'm doing and just make music with these people."
Doors 7pm | Show 8pm
The Lone Bellow
And that's what he did. The trio's self-titled debut disc is exuberant in its playing, welcoming in its attitude. Though the lyrics have a melancholic undercurrent, the tracks are more often rave-ups than ruminations, with swelling three-part harmonies and rousing group-sung choruses, especially on the electric guitar-driven "The One You Should've Let Go" and "Green Eyes and A Heart of Gold," a we-will-survive anthem that could be about a family or a band. Indeed, there is a strong familial feel to The Lone Bellow, a recurring theme of inclusiveness.
That sentiment lies at the heart of the album and Williams' own career to date. The native Georgian first came to songwriting via near tragedy. While still living down south, Williams' young wife was catastrophically injured in a horseback riding accident. Physicians initially told Williams that, at best, his wife would leave the hospital a paraplegic. But doctors at the pioneering Shepard Center in Atlanta thought otherwise and after months of rehab there she ultimately regained the ability to walk. Throughout the ordeal, Williams had been scribbling his thoughts into a journal; good friend Caleb Clardy, co-writer of "Teach Me To Know," suggested he turn his writing into songs. The couple's friends had rallied around them, practically living in the hospital waiting room with Williams, organically becoming the support group he needed. Williams admits, "That was the first time I really experienced somebody trying their best to carry someone else's burden. It was very moving to me. I was going to classes on how to bathe and feed my wife, and I was trying to process all the fear and anger and the numbness. I started reading my friends these journal entries. I was writing in a kind of rhyming form because it helped to keep my mind focused. Caleb said, these are songs, man, you need to learn how to play the guitar and sing at he same time."
Having experienced something close to a miracle, a revitalized Williams and his wife decided to head to New York City and pursue their creative paths in earnest. Several of their friends, equally motivated, chose to follow, and they reformed a tightly knit community in Brooklyn, where everyone settled Williams initially worked as a solo artist, backed at times by a hired band. Two years ago, following a soul-searching trip he'd taken with his wife, Williams re-emerged with a stack of deeply personal songs -- tender but frank tales of romantic rupture and hard-fought redemption -- rooted in the country, folk and gospel of his Southern youth, and that's the material he brought to the diner.
Along with the core group of Williams, Pipkin, and fellow Georgian Elmquist, the Lone Bellow's recording and touring ensemble now includes Ben Mars on bass, Brian Murphy on keyboards, Matt Knapp on lap steel and electric guitar, Jason Pipkin on banjo and mandolin, and Brian Griffin on drums. After a warm-up gig at Brooklyn's Roots Café, Williams got a call from The Civil Wars, the Grammy Award Winning duo that he'd befriended while they were playing at the Lower East Side's Rockwood Music Hall. They asked if he and his new cohorts would open for them in Philadelphia: "We rehearsed for three days straight to try and get our act together and went to Philly and played our first real show as a group. It was so life giving, everything that everyone was playing had the overarching values of honesty, friendship and vulnerability, I felt like we really connected with this group of people in Philadelphia who'd never heard of us before."
Willams met with Civil Wars producer Charlie Peacock when the Lone Bellow played the Bowery Ballroom and took him to the Rockwood, the modest but well-regarded two-room venue that Williams had long considered his musical home: "When Charlie came up, I said, let's walk around the block. I want to show you the venue. The owner, Ken Rockwood, was there and they just hit it off. Charlie was walking around, snapping his fingers close to walls, looking at the glass windows in front of the large room, and he said, 'You should make your record here'. Ken gave us the room for three days and three nights. We lived there. Our eight-piece band recorded twelve songs there and Charlie magically made them something worth listening to. I will never forget that experience."
Peacock captured the spirit and the sound of these individuals, both at their most confident and their most vulnerable. Their recording of "Teach Me To Know," an infectious folk/gospel sing-along, was the by-product of some spontaneous late-night carousing, according to Williams: "We were ten songs in, I was exhausted, my vocals were completely gone, it was like one a.m and it started pouring down rain. Our piano player Brian ran outside and lied down on the sidewalk. So we all ran outside. Two of the band members started dancing in the rain and the rest of us started running around Allen Street with our shirts off. It was a beautiful moment. And while we were out there being dumb, Charlie set up the mics completely differently. When we came back inside, soaking wet from the rain, he said, we're recording 'Teach Me to Know' right now. And we laid it down. And that was the way it was making this record. It was all about capturing moments. We didn't play to a click; we were just in it. It was absolutely wonderful. I felt like the city just soaked through the windows into the recording."
Afterwards, Williams, Kanene Pipkin and Elmquist joined Peacock down in Nashville for overdubs and fixes with some additional players at his studio, the Art House – an abandoned old church he had retrofitted on a small piece of land – and that location proved to be as well-suited to the band's sensibility as the Rockwood. The results of their efforts, the Lone Bellow's debut, are earnest, inspiring and fun. Everyone listening – and undoubtedly singing and stomping along – will surely feel like part of the family too.
Hugh Bob & The Hustle
Singer-songwriter Hugh Robert Masterson grew up in Butternut, Wisconsin - a quaint but fading small town with decrepit mills, dirt roads, farms, beat down bars, and a population of 300. "It's the kind of place where the silence is deafening and the stars are so bright you can feel nothing but humbled," says Masterson. His band Hugh Bob and The Hustle and their masterful self-titled debut album brings to life this slice of classic Americana with ruggedly poetic lyrics and sweetly winsome roots rock.
Masterson's blend of hard luck stories and backwoods whimsy with crisp twang, high lonesome harmonies, and heartland rock n' roll is an aesthetic called "North Country". It's similar in spirit to country in its earnestness and its ties to American folk traditions, but details the plight of folks up North. Masterson has garnered favorable comparisons to Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, Alan Jackson, and Dwight Yoakam. A.V. Club Milwaukee praises his debut as: "a warm, affectionate collection of straight-up AM country gold." Rocksposure gushes "Hugh Bob never strikes an inauthentic note." The Nashville Scene says: "We can't help but be naturally suspicious of outlanders appropriating traditionally Southern music, but Milwaukee's Hugh Bob avoided the pitfalls of the derivative Mumford & Sons bro-grass that has been invading our country by being charmingly sincere."
After apprenticing as a sideman bassist, most notably with indie darlings Jaill and acclaimed roots rockers The Wildbirds, Masterson recently decided to step out as a singer-songwriter. The 11 songs on his debut are the first he's ever written. "I just felt like I was finally ready to release something," he says, assessing his latent creativity. "It was a confidence thing, I was afraid of putting my heart into something and people not liking it."
Through his stories, and those of Butternut, Masterson has crafted a tender and truthful album. "I'm attracted to realness," he says. "The natural reality of how hard life is doesn't go unnoticed where I'm from." The stunning "Ashland County," rich with golden harmonies and mournful and shimmering pedal steel guitar, is a poignant snapshot of a crumbling small town. "That's about where I grew up, it's depressed, there's not much there anymore," Masterson says. His voice is sweetly pristine and vulnerable as he sings: Rivers spillin' over/Bars burnin' down/Now they're planting flowers, all over town Got high on Joint Road/In between the farms/Now they're all gone, and the mill is shuttin' down. The gritty Americana of "Butternut" mixes quaint nostalgia with powerful social commentary. Here, with raw emotionality, Masterson sings: I come from a long line of drinkers and boozers, gamblers, we're all losers where I'm from/Days go by but no one's ever leaving/No matter how hard I try this town's got a hold on me/Got a hold on me. Rounding out the album are the cheeky "This Bar Is A Prison" and "Mess With Me," rowdy good time numbers with quicksilver twang and shit kicking humor.
Live and on record Masterson is aptly backed by The Hustle, a band of friends with telepathic interplay and a unique approach to American roots music. The Hustle is Quinn Scharber, guitar/vocals; Nicholas Stuart, bass/vocals; Bradley Kruse, keys/vocals; and Justin Krol, drums. Masterson and Stuart played together back in The Wildbirds (along with Scharber and Kruse), with Masterson playing a supportive role for Stuart's singer-songwriter vision. In the Hustle, Stuart returns the favor. "I've known Hugh for 7 years, and he's always had song scraps in his pocket. Never a complete song," says Nicholas Stuart. "But when he pulled out the basic structures of 'Blame Me' and 'Red, White & Blue Jeans,' I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. He has a great way of putting the listener in a place that he is, or a place that he's been. And he just really cares for the song, down to a single lyric. That's something that impresses me every time."
Masterson is currently gigging actively with The Hustle, building a strong live profile with their vibrantly authentic musicality, impassioned sincerity, and downhome exuberance. "I remember playing that first show. I had done all this stuff to prove myself. I was sitting there in the basement of the venue and I was so nervous I wanted to run away," he says. "But when I got onstage, the adrenaline from the people's response made it all feel so worthwhile."