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  • Rich Kassirer

The Lone Cure

The Lone Bellow made quite an impression in 2013 – even winning over the guy with a bad case of Americana Exhaustion

The Lone Bellow at the Paradise.
The Lone Bellow at the Paradise. Photo by Reid Simpson/Hear and There Photography

I complained a lot this year. I was hurting and desperate. It wasn’t my fault. I suffered from a bad case of Americana Exhaustion in 2013 and it wouldn’t go away. I think it started two years earlier when Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers joined Bob Dylan onstage at the Grammys in an awful rendition of “Maggie’s Farm.” Since then I haven’t been able to shake it. My doctor, I call him Doc Rock, prescribed limiting my musical intake of banjos, mandolins and acoustic guitars. So I went out seeking the help I needed. I discovered Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers, a rock band with a ’70s Linda Ronstadt sound, and I plugged into Gary Clark Jr.’s electric blues guitar, and it was good. I felt the spark returning to my system.

But something was still missing. What makes music really special is when you find that one act that blows you away. The one that has “it”: the one that, even if you are up in the balcony or buried deep in the back row of the hall, speaks to you directly.

I had heard about the Lone Bellow. But, because of my illness, I ignored their highly praised album and the attention they received at the Newport Folk Festival. Doc Rock warned me to stay away, and I was determined to stick to the plan. Then in November, after being prodded by friends numerous times, I went to see them perform. Yes, they are an Americana act; yes, mandolins and acoustic guitars…

But this band – the trio of Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist and Kanene Pipkin – is dynamic. It has “it.”  Their songs of tragedy and hopefulness are filled with a crackling energy merging folk and rock and gospel into a truly emotional experience on stage. It’s like they are singing directly to you. Onstage they are showy without being showoffs. They dance and stomp and rev up the audience, allowing for singalongs but also creating an intimacy that mesmerizes. Some of my favorite moments of the show were the quietest of parts where Kanene stared directly at her two partners, completely focused on where her voice fit into the resplendent three-part harmonies.

And while their voices and stage presence put the band over the top, their musicianship is also a highlight. I saw them with a bass and drum backup, which made their more raucous songs really rock.

So am I cured? I don’t know. What I do know is seeing the Lone Bellow reminds me of the first time I saw Josh Ritter. You had the feeling you were hearing something special and that they were playing just for you. And musically that is what keeps me alive.

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