The Lone Bellow

Then Came the Morning

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Given the enthusiasm that the Lone Bellow's self-titled 2013 debut generated, they had their work cut out for them on album number two. Then Came the Morning is no sophomore slump; it establishes the group's individual identity. They co-wrote all the material and took real chances with arrangements and sound. This time out, the Lone Bellow enlisted the National's Aaron Dessner as producer. His brother Bryce is also on board, adding various string, wind, and horn orchestrations. This set is far more varied, savvy, and uplifting than its predecessor, yet sacrifices no depth. While some songs are still rooted in feelings of mortality, others deliver quiet passion, spiritual zeal, and hard-won affirmation, while remaining centered in their trademark "Brooklyn country music." Zach Williams' passionate, soulful voice leads all but one of the 13 songs, soaring above the guitars, mandolins, pedal steels, clattering snares, keyboards, strings, and horns in Peter Katis' mix. On the title track that opens the set, backing choral harmonies from bandmates Kanene Doheney Pipkin and Brian Elmquist almost lift the record off the ground. "Take My Love" begins with urgent, thickly reverbed snares and pedal steel wrapped in warm layers of electric and acoustic guitars and gentle keyboards. Williams' singing underscores the anthemic quality of the narrative. When Pipkin and Elmquist come in to add support, the protagonist's plea transforms into affirmation, his desire a blessing. Pipkin's lead vocal on "Call to War" is stirring. Her breezy yet earthy croon inhabits the lyric: "...Til the Southern wind puts me six feet down/My feet will march to holy ground...When call to us from trumpets tall/Love will see the armies fall...." Her conviction is total yet unforced; she's delivering the truth and her bandmates' backing voices testify to it. "Watch Over Us" is a prayerful waltz. Its multi-part harmony evokes country gospel with a sole acoustic guitar as accompaniment. By contrast, "Heaven Don't Call Me Home" is garage rockabilly delivered with the theatrical intensity of Elvis in Las Vegas doing call and response. "If You Don't Love Me" is another electric number that melds swampy rock to funky country. Pipkin's soulful wail above Williams and Elmquist's backing voices recalls the sung interplay of Delaney & Bonnie. "To the Woods" is stripped back and recalls the sounds expressed on the band's debut, while the R&B-tinged "Cold as It Is" cops Norman Greenbaum's guitar sound in "Spirit in the Sky." Closer "I Let You Go" commences as a spare and sad country love song. As its harmonies become a sung round, instruments are folded in until it becomes a honky tonk weeper. Then Came the Morning reveals so much growth it's hard to believe this is only the Lone Bellow's second album. This trio pulls off a chosen weave of hybrid roots sounds with seeming ease, passion, and verve. No one else performing Americana or crossover country music attempts anything like it, leaving the trio in its own class.

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