Down Home and Down Here
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”.
The tight-knit members of The Deep Dark Woods are old friends and trusted
collaborators. Lead singer Ryan Boldt writes most of the lyrics, but songwriting
credits on Jubilee are also shared with Chris Mason, Lucas Goetz, former bandmate
Burke Barlow and new addition Clayton Linthicum. The band recorded Jubilee
mostly live off the floor, which allowed for a collective and often spontaneous approach to
songcraft. Lyrically, Jubilee shows artistic growth and finesse, and the new album
features some of band’s finest songs yet.
Fond of and adept at improvisation and experimentation on stage, The Deep Dark
Woods have cultivated a moveable scene of like-minded artists. The desire to
translate the intuitive aspects of their live performances to a record led them to
producer Jonathan Wilson. As patron saint of the present-day Laurel Canyon folk
revival, which breathes new life into California’s richly experimental musical history,
Wilson is a going concern in the woozy world of neopsychedelic breakout acts, most
notably as producer of Father John Misty’s 2012 success Fear Fun. “His involvement
with some musicians who have had an influence on us also tipped us off that maybe
this was the right guy. They had a vast knowledge of the equipment and techniques
that were used to make some of our favourite records,” Goetz says of the choice to
work with Wilson and engineer Bryce Gonzales, who both joined the band during the
two-week cabin recording experience.
The Deep Dark Woods have appeared at numerous high-profile festivals and stages,
including Newport Folk Fest, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and at Terrapin
Crossroads in San Francisco, where they were joined by jam-band legend Phil Lesh.
The band has made a fan of influential BBC roots guru Bob Harris, and recently
made their silver screen debut in “Save Haven,” the newest Nicholas Sparks
Oliver Gray’s day job is writing school text books and non-fiction items, but his hobby is promoting live shows by visiting roots artists from the US and Canada. When contemplating his first foray into fiction, he was advised to “write about what you know about”. It’s therefore no surprise that “Zander” is set in the world of small-time music promotion.
When American roots musician Corey Zander sets out on his first UK tour, things start badly and rapidly get worse. Not even his drug-strewn rock and roll past could prepare him for the violence of his reception in provincial England.
We hope you will enjoy it.
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‘Stay True’ is the fourth album from Danny & The Champions Of The World. It’s also Danny George Wilson’s eleventh album which includes six long players from the much loved Grand Drive plus a solo outing (as Danny George Wilson) entitled ‘Famous Mad Mile’. Danny has been touring the world and making critically acclaimed records for nearly 20 years now, the first Grand Drive release was on Loose back in 1997. ‘Stay True’ was recorded this year over five days at North London’s Reservoir Studios with Champs bass player Chris Clarke (ex Rockingbirds) and Danny at the helm.
Danny describes the scene: “catching sleep on the control room sofa, recording deep into the night, friends and musicians dropping by, inspired by the great soul, country and rock n roll of Stax, Muscle Shoals, The Band, Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, Dion DiMucci, Van Morrison…Ronnie Lane meets Ronnie Spector!”
Danny & The Champions Of The World has always been a pretty loose collection of great musicians, songwriters, stowaways and adventurers. The current line up is the most steady so far – it’s not a collective of folks now, it’s a band, a great band: Danny George Wilson (acoustic guitar, lead vocals), Chris Clarke (bass, vocals), Paul Lush (guitar, vocals), Steve Brookes (drums, vocals) and Geoff Widdowson (saxophone, organ, vocals).
For the recording of ‘Stay True’ some of the musicians from previous Champs line-ups came down to the studio and joined in (Rosalie Deighton, Robin and Joe Bennett of The Dreaming Spires and Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou). There are also collaborations on the record with London bluegrass outfit ‘Foghorn Leghorn’ – as Danny recalls: “the musicians all stood around the microphones in the same room - booze flowing, smoke filling the air, it was like a polka night but with banjos! Generally it felt like we were making something special, I just booked the studio and the guys heard the songs for the first time on the studio floor. The dream of actually capturing a true first take, something happening for the first time became reality and I’m thrilled with the result. You always hear stuff later that you may have done differently, but you can never beat the feel of a band playing something for the first time. It’s very easy to make perfect records these days but I can’t think of anything more boring.”
The album opens in typically autobiographical style with ‘(Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket’, the true story of Danny and his dad hitchhiking to a Fabulous Thunderbirds show. Danny describes the song thus: “a tribute to my folks, my dad’s always been a huge music fan. His first job was keeping the jukebox stocked with the hits back in the 50’s in his folks’ Milk bar in Melbourne, so he can name pretty much any doo wop or R‘n’B hit within the opening bars – a great education… He saw Buddy Holly – now there’s qualifications for you.” It was always the natural opener for an album steeped in good times, bad times, family, friends and powered by a great jukebox. It’s without a doubt, the work of a champ. Stay True.
Almost all our events are at the Railway, Winchester, which has a simple new ticket selling system. Go to www.railwaylive.co.uk and head for the listings. Tickets are also available direct from the venue.