Release Date: 7th February 2020
Label: Dualtone Records
Format: CD, DL
You may, or may not, be aware of The Lone Bellow. The band hail from Brooklyn, New York and consist of Zach Williams on guitar and lead vocals, Kanene Donehey Pipkin on mandolin, bass, keyboards and vocals and Brian Elmquist on guitar and vocals.
Half Moon Light is the band’s fourth album, following 2013’s eponymous debut, 2015’s Then Came The Morning and 2017’s Walk Into a Storm. This latest effort is produced by Aaron Dessner (of The National), was recorded at Dessner’s studio in upstate New York and at the behest of Dessner, the band are supplemented by guitarist Josh Kaufman and drummer J.T.Baites – an augmentation that brings added texture to the sound, without sacrificing the inherent sparseness of the band’s instrumentation.
Most of the songs build interestingly from soft beginnings, often comprising a vocal line backed by gently strummed or picked guitar, of by softly struck percussion to reach some form of instrumental or vocal (occasionally both!) crescendo. The sounds and style of bands like The National (obviously, I suppose) and Fleet Foxes can be clearly detected in the structure of the songs, but also my English ears or my imagination can also sense echos of Elbow and even The Stone Roses – in the case of the latter probably because of the liberal sprinklings of jangly guitar.
The album itself is interestingly structured, sandwiched as the tracks are, between a short introductory piano passage and a “frontier town chapel” styled finale, with a short Interlude in the middle of the set. The songs themselves are all of a similar format with a vocal very much to the front of the mix, generally subtle backing from acoustic guitar, keyboard and bass and tasteful use of electric guitar to add seasoning. My main criticism, and it isn’t a strong one, is that many of the songs’ lyrics are a bit forgettable.
As for the songs, the standout tracks for me are I Can Feel You Dancing, the first vocal track on the album featuring a laid-back keyboard and drum backing which sets the theme for the songs to come, Wonder, with a vocal almost reminiscent of U2 and an enticing hummed 2-note backing, Enemies, one of the softer songs on an already atmospheric album, Just Enough To Get By, which showcases Kanene’s vocal prowess and features a very listenable percussive, plonking backing and my personal favourite, the surging Dust Settles.
The Lone Bellow have just completed a short run of UK dates but they will be back in early May for a show at Hackney Arts Centre. Anyone sufficiently interested to pop along will, I am sure, not be disappointed. For me, I would particularly like to catch them at a pastoral outdoor setting on a summer’s day – by the evidence of the music on this album, that would be an engaging, relaxing and satisfying experience. Festival organisers please take note!
Listen to Count On Me from the album here: