Back in North Carolina for the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to take in the Sons of Bill show in Greensboro. I’d actually seen them several years ago as an opener for Robert Earl Keen, though at the time I hadn’t been paying attention. With the release of Sirens this past spring, they came to my attention again, especially when I discovered that the talking introduction to Sirens’s first single, “Santa Ana Winds,” was a bit of William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Playing a refreshing version of country music, Sons of Bill hails from Charlottesville, Virginia, a state that comes up frequently in their songs. Like all country worth its twang, Sons of Bill calls up themes of place and time; of intoxicated sin and religion; of heartbreak and nostalgia. Yet this is not retro-country, borrowing its sound too much from Willie, Waylon, and other greats. It’s also not the bubblegum stuff coming out of Nashville. Quite simply, it’s as honest and heartfelt as anything being released today. This stuff comes from the soul; listening to any of the band’s three albums, one will find:
- Longing to return to home and innocence.
- The realization that one is rolling along out of control, his lifestyle replete with booze and debauchery.
- A deep-seated search for remove from past wrongs and misdeeds and a desire to redeem oneself.
The lyrics are honest and well-written; the musical technical abilities are of the highest quality. Even so, Sons of Bill’s recordings just don’t reflect how excellent these guys are in person. Live, they pack a punch. Too often I’ve heard records and been enthused, only to finally see that band live and go home disappointed. This was not the case with Sons of Bill. Their albums are well-written and well-produced; but live they are a powerhouse, a sonic boom of steel guitar, a sweaty, boozy alarm of raw emotion. Like the title of their latest effort, they are as loud and affecting as sirens. As the industry these days necessitates bands be on the road the majority of the year in order to eke out a living from music, sometimes artists put on mediocre shows simply out of exhaustion. Sometimes they just mail it in. I have no frame of reference as to whether Sons of Bill has performed flaccidly before, but I do know that on the Friday after Thanksgiving 2012 in Greensboro, they were spot-on. Here’s a live version of “Santa Ana Winds” that successfully captures a fraction of their live energy. Below are three of my favorite tracks off the latest album.
“This Losing Fight”
The story of one down-and-out, this track captures the hopelessness that’s too often too easy to slip into. The singer is weary and worn, thinking about how every promise from childhood has turned out to be tainted if not an outright lie. The perfect song for when you feel sick and tired of every part of life.
An analysis of being checked-out in all respects from a relationship, “The Tree” tells the story of one party begging the other to open up and share, although the latter fully acknowledges and accepts the pointlessness in even attempting to do so.
“Radio Can’t Rewind”
Life itself positioned as radio, the singer laments that life spools out in one continuous stream like a broadcast, wholly incapable of being wound back to the beginning. A beautiful nod to life on the road and country predecessors, this track captures the melancholic side of chasing elusive success.