The Lone Bellow
Walk Into a Storm
(Descendant/Sony Music Masterworks)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
It’s goodbye Brooklyn, hello Nashville for The Lone Bellow. All the better for the three piece (plus backing) to engage Music City’s go-to producer Dave Cobb who recorded the band’s third album at that city’s famed RCA Studio A.
The three year break between albums and a switch of producers from the National’s Aaron Dessner hasn’t changed the band’s sound as much as focused their approach. Frontman Zachary Williams still takes the majority of lead vocals, songwriting is shared in various combinations of Williams, singer Kanene Pipkin and Brian Elmquist, the lyrics walk the line between clichéd (“Come Break My Heart Again”) and introspective (“Deeper in the Water”) and the threesome’s knack for a hooky chorus remains intact. Extensive touring behind their previous release and audiences’ ecstatic reaction to such arm-waving, lighter-raising, gospel-inspired singalongs as “Then Came the Morning” showed that more of the same would fit the bill.
That’s not to denigrate the threesome’s ability to craft tunes that play to the cheap seats, since it’s an art few master well. Still, when the chorus starts repeating on “Is it Ever Gonna Be Easy” and the strings swell on the life-affirming “May You Be Well,” along with the following “Come Break My Heart Again,” you can’t help but notice a pattern. Thankfully, tracks such as the peppy, Motown-styled “Feather,” where Pipkin’s lead vocal sounds so much like Christine McVie you’ll be checking the credits to see if she guests, and the thumping, tightly rocking first single “Time’s Always Leaving” provide much needed breaks from the emotional overload that dominates the majority of the disc.
Tracks such as the relatively stripped down “Between the Lines” with its insistent acoustic guitar and churchy Hammond organ and the jaunty “Can’t Be Happy for Long,” whose upbeat rhythm hides the cautionary lyrics of “Say that you’re forsaken, say your well is dry/ And everything inside you has walked off to die … You and I both know you can’t be happy for long” keep The Lone Bellow from the precipice of painting themselves into a songwriting corner.
As usual, the dependable Cobb plays to the band’s strengths. He boosts the drama when the song calls for it and tightens down the group’s tendency for excess on enough tracks to keep this a successful, if somewhat predictable addition to the band’s catalog. It’s surely one existing fans will enjoy, especially on tracks that seem crafted for maximum participation in the live experience.