Tuesday Reviewsday: The Lone Bellow, George Ezra and more
This week on Tuesday Reviewsday, Chris Martins and Shirley Halperin talk about new music from The Lone Bellow, George Ezra, Howlin' Rain and Cotillon.
A Martinez is joined this week by music journalist Chris Martins and Shirley Halperin - music editor at Billboard Magazine for Tuesday Reviewsday, our weekly new music segment.
Artist: The Lone Bellow
Album: "Then Came the Morning"
Songs: "Then Came the Morning," "Cold As It Is"
Notes: I’d like welcome you all to the church of Zach Williams, lead singer for Brooklyn-by-way of Georgia band The Lone Bellow. Zach - as you can tell in the song "Then Came the Morning" - has quite a voice and, on stage, he commands an almost evangelical presence, inviting the audience to sing and clap along almost as if at a Sunday sermon.
And in fact The Lone Bellow has made many new devotees in the last few years as it’s been building buzz. The band’s signature three-part harmony, the voices of Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipki, is the undeniable hook here, but it’s also the way they meld gospel with country, folk, a hint of the blues.
Elsewhere on the album are several heart-breakers, songs like “Watch Over Us,” “Take My Love” and “If You Don’t Love Me,” a lot of which have to do with emotions Zach felt when his wife broke her neck in a horse riding accident. Fortunately, she recovered fully and Zach Williams’s scars made for some pretty terrific tunes.
Artist: George Ezra
Album: "Wanted On Voyage"
Songs: "Budapest," "Did You Hear the Rain"
Notes: The modern-day troubadour has been an interesting thing to watch in recent years. You have Ed Sheeran, your teen-friendly acoustic guitar-slapping pop maestro; You've got someone like Jake Bugg, who’s the three-chord indie rock version; Hozier and “Take Me to Church,” which in all its simplicity is incredibly intense in its messaging and its sound.
But what's the one thing all three of these singer-songwriters have in common?
They all hail from across the pond — Hozier is Irish — as does newcomer George Ezra, who’s from Bristol, England and is already making a name for himself with songs like, “Budapest.”
He’s been compared to Van Morrison and he himself name-checks Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie as influences, which is pretty amazing considering this kid was born in 1993. And that’s what I like about George Ezra, how he brings in this element of distortion, almost a nod to the grunge era, to this folksy, whimsical sound he’s concocted for himself. A good example is the song “Did You Hear the Rain”.
This album is titled "Wanted On Voyage," which at first look read like a British-ism and I’m honestly still not sure what that means. If any readers out there would like to enlighten us, by all means, please do so in the comments.
Artist: Howlin' Rain
Album: "Mansion Songs"
Songs: "Restless," "Big Red Moon"
Notes: A perfect visualization of evolution is the classic monkey to man graphic, but Oakland guitarist/songwriter Ethan Miller has been doing it backwards across his 15-year career. He started out as the lead man in Comets On Fire, a truly wild psych-rock outfit. Then he founded Howlin' Rain, a blustery blues-rock band. Now, after taking a few years off, he's back, basically solo, with a stripped-down version of Howlin' Rain.
There was a lot of hype around the last Howlin' Rain album in 2012. Super-producer Rick Rubin famously had them write 150 songs before they began recording. A lot of critics felt the end result was overworked and over-produced. So, Miller dissolved the band, parted ways with his major label, and went back to the shed. He said he was aiming to make something that "junkies in the Tenderloin could feel at home wandering through."
Songs: "Gloom," "Asteroid"
Notes: Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the lush, wistful sounds of a musical style we'll call bummer-pop. Check it out.
That's a song called "Gloom" by a young band called Cotillon. They've earned comparisons to the Velvet Underground, Pixies, and My Bloody Valentine — folks who famously made pop grittier.
The project was started by former Angeleno Jordan Corso when he was working as an assistant at an insurance company on the East Side of Los Angeles. During his lunch breaks he'd head over to Elysian Park, write out song ideas, and hum melodies into his phone. At night he'd stay up recording. It started as a solo experiment about isolation — hence the "bummer" part. But pretty soon, Jordan had an actual band, and the chance to record with someone he'd looked up to: producer Chet "JR" White, from the band Girls.
Jordan's since moved to White's San Francisco, where he has discovered better vibes and a relationship that doesn't inspire songs with names like "Holding You Back" and "Should Have Known Better." Those all hail from Cotillon's self-titled debut LP, out now on Fullerton's excellent Burger Records label.