The Lone Bellow didn’t hide anything this time around, turning their trials into a big, embracing album.
Over the last few years, the Lone Bellow dealt with death and more death, rape, the trials of immigration and loss. They packed all that into 14 songs and some special recordings for Half Moon Light. Remarkably, they made the album encouraging and maybe even uplifting. They didn’t make it easy – listeners will have to go through some rough places with them – but they made it rewarding. A smart sound with hints of the anthemic guide their sincere lyrics on a memorable path worth taking–particularly if it’s a shared trip.
The group doesn’t waste any time getting into the hurt, although it would be possible to miss it if you don’t know the backstory. “Intro,” “Interlude” and “Finale” come from member Zach Williams’ grandmother playing the piano at her husband’s funeral. That closing hymn is followed by applause, no comfort for grief, but a very real reminder of the presence of community in times of crisis. The reminder suits the album, where songs like “Count on Me” rally relationships in big chorus that match the vocalists’ urging. “Martingales” offers a direct solution: “If yesterday is too heavy/ Put it down.”
While optimism drives those tracks, there’s no naïve escapism here. Kanene Donehey Pipkin’s “Just Enough to Get By” considers her mother’s rape, pregnancy and the child who was given away at birth. Pipkin considers the weight of secrets and of avoiding shame. The women in the song find just enough relief to get by, but not true freedom. “Wash it Clean” reflects on the need to mend relationships before they’re forever broken, as when death comes before reconciliation. The songwriters get that healing and catharsis don’t come cheap. There’s hard, dangerous work involved, but hope can power it.
In all these songs, whether somber reflections or celebrations (and the album adds up to something of the latter), the band still fits roughly into a vague Americana rubric. The Lone Bellow may have come in as a pop-roots band, more tied to Mumford & Sons than to stridently “authentic” acts, but they’ve moved from their more country and folk influences. That background permeates the record, but the trio and guests now settle in more of an indie rock space. Under Aaron Dessner’s production, the group gets a bright sound, with their wonderful harmonies properly at the center of it all.
The pieces all fit together for a strong, specific vision. The album (except for its outro) closes with a pairing of “Dust Settles” and “August.” The first track deals with our being “lonely together,” a mild anxiety about distance leavened by a recognition of the problem. The Lone Bellow then moves into “August,” written by Brian Elmquist after the death of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison. The song removes the distance present in “Dust Settles,” offering a hand to hold and the wisdom in recognizing the “love all around you.” The Lone Bellow didn’t hide anything this time around, turning their trials into a big, embracing album.