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.
It’s the rare band that can wear its influences wrapped so tightly and not suffer for it, but The Lone Bellow is that band. The Brooklyn trio’s new album is packed with signposts and reference points that should probably come off as shopworn, but most of the songs are strong enough that it doesn’t really matter. For every obvious nod at The Band, Van Morrison, Rosanne Cash, Fleetwood Mac or whomever else, there’s a striking melody or an airtight vocal harmony part that stands on its own.
To my (admittedly increasingly-aged) memory, The Lone Bellow were 'discovered' by Charlie Peacock, the man at least partly responsible for the all-too-brief reign of The Civil Wars at the top of the alt-country tree, and positioned for a career of similar dominance (although, presumably, it was hoped that they would talk to each other for longer). The debut album from the band, self-titled, assured and quite bombastic, failed, for me at least, to deliver on their original promise. If it is possible, The Lone Bellow was just too country.
The members of the Lone Bellow live in Brooklyn. On its own, this information is not particularly interesting. In 2015, this information is especially uninteresting, given that Brooklyn has firmly established itself as a veritable factory of bands, churning out groups classified under the increasingly large “indie” genre by the dozen on a weekly basis.
The Lone Bellow’s Zach Williams sings like he’s on fire for something. Like Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon fronting Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Williams and his band produce gospel-tinged folk that sounds like a backwoods revival — though the Lone Bellow seems less likely to emerge wearing matching robes. For songs of the sort featured on “Then Came the Morning” to catch, though, there needs to be immediacy above all else; instead, everything feels like it’s at a remove.