Keyword: Americana Rock. In a time when the lines between classic country, 70ies rock, Alt.Americana and No Depression get blurred and at the same time commercial country is crossing over into rock & pop, it becomes increasingly difficult for a young band to stand out with original, identifiable, enduring material. SONS OF BILL from Charlottesville, Virginia manage to do so with ease and deliver further proof with their brand-new album Sirens. They continue their exceptional winning streak which started with a strong debut, followed by a formidable second outing and culminates (for now) in a terrific third act. Sirens contains everything a fan could have hoped for and will certainly catapult Sons Of Bill to even greater success!
And, no, the band name is not inspired by your favorite western. In fact, the quintet’s creative heart are the three sons of Bill Wilson, a locally respected musician from Virginia. It’s now been almost six years since James, Seth & Abe Wilson got together with Seth Green on bass and Todd Wellons on drums to self-release their debut A Far Cry From Freedom. Beneath the somewhat home-made cover & booklet there was plenty of mature music: nothing less than a perfect synthesis of 70ies country rock, 90ies guitar rock and alt.country of the No Depression generation. The lyrics echoed heroes like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, chronicled small town life and portrayed people who had never been outside of the county they were born in. As a teen, James Wilson enjoyed metal before he found Gram, Townes, Hank, Neil, Dwight & Co. Soon, his brothers were coralled and the rhythm section rounded up, songs written and tunes by the likes of Steve Earle, Tom Petty and Drive-By Truckers learned to round out a live set. Starting in the mid-90ies, Sons Of Bill focused on the rock in country rock and climbed to the top of the ladder next to acts like Poco, Reckless Kelly, Whiskeytown, the Long Ryders and Son Volt.
Three years later, in the summer of 2009, they managed to top their debut album in delivering One Town Away. This album, recorded with new drummer Brian Capouto, was released on Blue Rose and aided by first-class California producer Jim Scott (Whiskeytown, Wilco, Tom Petty, Neal Casal, BoDeans) who provided wonderful analog sounds for the guitars and shone a spotlight on the Wilson brothers’ lead & harmony vocals. Additionally, studio ace Greg Leisz played pedal & lap steel on a number of songs – contributing to a truly cosmic sound that captured the hearts of many country rock fans.
And now: Sirens. It took almost three years to complete this album. A band like Sons Of Bill cannot neglect the touring to focus on studio work – the money must keep coming in and a Kickstarter campaign alone cannot finance a producer like Cracker head David Lowery. Yes, the Wilson brothers, Seth Green and returned drummer Todd Wellons stayed close to home this time – they recorded Sirens just a few miles east of their hometown at Lowery’s Sound Of Music in Richmond, VA. Acts like Sparklehorse, Trailer Bride, Clem Snide, Kingsbury Manx, Lucero, Magnolia Electric Co., Hotel Lights and, of course, Cracker have worked there before.
From the opening chords of “Santa Ana Winds” it’s obvious where this is gonna go: With a more powerful rhythm section, a fuller keyboard foundation, guitars that sound fat & gritty and an overall tighter & louder band sound, you need a strong batch of songs and vocals to stand out. And that’s just what they got. Keyboarder Abe Wilson has racked up more writer credits than before, stepping up to the lead vocal on the seven-minute “Turn It Up” and “The Tree” – thus claiming the heart of the album as his. Lead guitarist Sam Wilson (who released the solo album Green Gates in 2008) again contributes two excellent songs which he also sings: “Find My Way Back Home” a BoDeans-type number and the atmospheric “Radio Can’t Rewind”, embellished by pedal steel and mellotron by Alan Weatherhead (Cracker, Sparklehorse). The bulk of the material comes once again from youngster and frontman James Wilson. He plays guitar and sings with that charcteristic, raspy, nasal voice that has become the Sons Of Bill’s trademark. Credited to him are future hits like “Santa Ana Winds” and “Siren Song” which have an REM-type quality, the rocker “Life In Shambles” with Cracker guests David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, the Springsteen-esque “Angry Eyes”, the rough “This Losing Fight” and the beautiful, hymn-like, closing ballad “Virginia Calling”.