I get it about the Sons of Bill name. Three of the guys in the Charlottesville, Va.-based group are the offspring of a really good man named Bill. There are not enough positive male role models, so to celebrate just that is a fine thing. But as a band name it falls flat and, not to put too fine a point on it, there are too many familial musical monikers out there right now.
That, and “Sons of Blah blah blah” or “Blah blah blah and sons” sounds immediately like a bluegrass band, which is great if they are a bluegrass band. Sons of Bill is not. Their new album, Sirens (just out this week), falls closer to Americana-flavored indie-rock. It’s meticulously produced and balanced between the snarl of electric guitar and the whine of steel steel.
“Angry Eyes” and “Life In Shambles” edge closer to the country side of Americana, with twang and harmonica and churning, honky-tonk melody lines. “Turn It Up,” the longest song at seven and a half minutes, starts out with reverb and cymbal-accented drum kit before colliding into a sonic wall of blistering rock. But “The Tree,” which eases in with strummed acoustic guitar and melodic whistle, is a softer offering. With lyrics up front, the Sons (bothers James, Sam and Abe Wilson) showcase thoughtful songwriting and solid, warm vocals.
“Waking up, staring at the ceiling, trying hard to fight the feeling that you ain’t getting up today” is the rhythmic and clever intro to “This Losing Fight,” a power-kick of a song that underscored the current fading line between mainstream country and rock. Add to that Abe’s tasteful organ and there’s both an immediately and a timelessness to the track.
That Sirens is built on both song craft and musicianship isn’t much of a surprise. The album was recorded at Sound of Music Studios in Richmond, and helmed by producer David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven). Country-tinged indie-rock with sharp lyrics and memorable hooks is kind of what Lowery is known for. That the Sons picked Lowery shows that they’ve been paying attention. That’s probably to papa Bill’s credit.
All to the band’s credit are standout tracks “Santa Ana Winds” and “Radio Can’t Rewind.” The first is Sirens’ lead song, and also the recently-released and delightfully cinematic video. Here, the Sons are all indie-rock, with driving drums, jangling guitars and the build of organ that foretells something epic and exciting on the horizon. The song opens and shimmers like a sunset mirage over a California desert, all dangerous and glinting with possibility.
“Radio Can’t Rewind” takes a more delicate approach. There’s the mournful wail of the lap steel and the thump of kick drum below brushes on snare. Organ takes a staring role, but it’s the vocal — a heartfelt soundscape of regret that rises into an achingly gorgeous bridge. “So you go back home just to find that long lost time. Years’ll go like songs that came before you and radio can’t rewind,” goes the chorus. The listener doesn’t have to even fully comprehend the story to feel the bittersweet emotion. Which, of course, if the calling card of a good song.