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First Listen: The Lone Bellow, 'Then Came The Morning'

The Lone Bellow's new album, <em>Then Came The Morning</em>, comes out Jan. 27.
Steven Sebring
Courtesy of the artist
The Lone Bellow's new album, Then Came The Morning, comes out Jan. 27.

The Lone Bellow isn't the first modern band to traffic in grandiose folk-rock uplift, but it's already among the best. Singer-songwriter Zach Williams writes with real ambition, as he channels some of music's mightiest pillars in crafting his sound: The title track of The Lone Bellow's Then Came The Morning pointedly summons the spirit of Van Morrison (and his more recent spiritual cousin, Glen Hansard), but it's also fused with the sounds of gospel and, as Williams himself has said, "a lot of Vegas-era Elvis."

As can be gleaned from that list of forebears, The Lone Bellow's songs lean toward the gigantic — at heart, Williams is a belter of the vein-bulging variety — but they're also impeccably played and nicely balanced by softer, subtler touches. Kanene Doheney Pipkin's contributions are crucial, whether she's bringing lilting touches to the sound on mandolin or singing lead in the sweetly languid "Call To War."

The Lone Bellow's self-titled 2013 debut was recorded under the direction of Charlie Peacock, who helped craft The Civil Wars' sound and is a big reason the two bands are so frequently compared. It's telling that Then Came The Morning was produced instead by The National's Aaron Dessner, whose day job and other production work (on albums by Luluc, Sharon Van Etten and others) point to something moodier and more intricate. The Lone Bellow's music has always had a larger-than-life flamboyance about it, but on Then Came The Morning, it's elevated by nuance that ventures frequently and welcomely into grace.

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Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)