The Lone Bellow ushers in ‘Brooklyn country’
By Chris Talbot July 10, 2013 3:42PM
The Lone Bellow — Brian Elmquist (from left), Zach Williams and Kanene Pipkin — bring their unique blend of soulful country and lush boy-girl harmonies to the Taste of Chicago on July 12.
Robert Plant presents The Sensational Space Shifters featuring The Lone Bellow, 5:30 p.m. July 12. Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park. Free admission. Visit tasteofchicago.us
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The members of The Lone Bellow were standing around after opening for Dwight Yoakam at a recent show when they overheard three good ol’ boys discussing their music.
One turned to the other and asked what kind of music they’d just heard. Was it country or folk or rock or gospel?
“And then one of the guys goes, ‘That there was Brooklyn country,’” Kanene Pipkin said. “Isn’t that perfect?”
That trio of Yoakam fans unknowingly coined an ideal term to describe the current folk-rock movement — and one of its rising stars. The Lone Bellow has been on a run since releasing its self-titled debut album in January, distinguishing itself from the banjo-toting crowd in Brooklyn.
The trio arrives at a fortuitous time and bearing the hallmarks of the movement’s most popular bands. (They open for Robert Plant at Taste of Chicago at 5:30 p.m. July 12.) Lead singer Zach Williams has the same kind of smoky, soulful voice as Mumford & Sons lead singer Marcus Mumford. And the band favors the emotionally varied boy-girl harmonies that have helped The Lumineers become one of music’s surprise success stories.
“I feel like there’s definitely some sort of movement going on and I’m honored that people lump us on that list because that music has moved me personally,” Williams said.
It’s moving more new fans each day, taking in willing converts the way The Lone Bellow did on a recent two-night stand with Yoakam in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Yoakam draws a crazy-quilt melange of fans, from deep-woods traditional country diehards to coffee-sipping, Americana-loving hipsters. Each night the trio drew in the crowd quickly, won them over with a sound that’s more electrified than their peers and earned standing ovations — something more difficult to pull off in Nashville than a hit single.
The new album is no rehash of current trends. The trio recorded it 2½ years ago with Peacock in New York and Nashville and held onto it until they found a management and label team.
And unlike their counterparts, they’re not a strictly an acoustic affair. A once-sacriligious kick drum isn’t uncommon in today’s folk-rock alignment. But The Lone Bellow — named for a particularly scary childhood night Williams endured on his grandparents’ farm that included a haunting bull’s bellow — kicks it up even more with a full drum kit, electric guitar and a willingness to rock.
Though based in Brooklyn, Williams and Elmquist grew up in rural Georgia, while Pipkin was raised in Virginia. Williams said he grew up listening to The Judds, The Highwaymen and other rocking ’80s country acts. They also incorporate R&B and gospel melodies.
They all came to Brooklyn looking to make the same kind of human connection they’d grown up with in the country.
“I definitely think folk music in its very essence is communal,” Pipkin said. “It’s people getting together and playing instruments and singing harmonies, and all doing it in a room together, as opposed to somebody creating something by themselves on a computer. And I think our generation has so much time by themselves at a computer that folk music is something that feels a little more organic or tangible.”