Bill and the Belles (from the album Happy Again available as a self-release) (by Mason Winfree)
Bill and the Belles capture the nuances of heartbreak on their new release, Happy Again. DreamSongs, Etc, Bill and the Belles’ 2018 debut studio album, was a record that completely defied convention in the best way possible. Looking back on it in the present, it easily stands out; emerging as one of the most original collections to surface within the contemporary landscape of American Roots music. Recalling a vintage style that predates the advent of recorded sound and yet possessing a timeless quality that so easily reflects the nuances that make us human. The music created by Bill and the Belles is on one hand familiar, like revisiting an old friend, but on the other hand it’s like something you have never heard before. With the release of their sophomore album, Happy Again, Bill and the Belles have demonstrated that they are growing and adapting to the hurdles of life, and signifying to all of us coming out of the pandemic that spring is here in more ways than one.
Bill and the Belles is a quartet based in Johnson City, Tennessee featuring Kris Truelsen on lead vocals and guitar, Kalia Yeagle on fiddle, Andrew Small on bass, and new member Aidan VanSuetendael on banjo/banjo-uke. Centering around three-part vocal arrangements that evoke vocal groups of the 1930s and 1940s, tight-knit instrumentation, and masterclass songwriting, the band continues to redefine what it means to carry on traditions; connecting rural and urban, country and pop, and past and present in a sound that is distinguishably their own.
At first, Happy Again might appear to be a cheerful sounding album but the narratives contained within do not always align with its upbeat melodies. Produced by Teddy Thompson, son of Richard and Linda Thompson, the group’s latest album serves as an introspection and reflection from the mind of Kris Truelsen, who penned all of the songs following a transitional phase in his life. Emerging from the shade of devastation following his divorce, Truelsen’s songs showcase the complexities of the human experience and paint accounts that not only deal with dejected deliberation, but also positive reclamation of oneself.
Kicking off the album is the title track, a playful yet dismal number called, “Happy Again (I’ll Never Be)”, which not only sets the stage for what is to follow but also encapsulates the unmistakable dichotomy of sound and emotion that aptly weave like a thread throughout the course of the entire record. Disclosing the various facets of heartbreak, songs like “Happy Again (I’ll Never Be)”, “Blue So Blue”, and “Sobbin’ the Blues” demonstrate our narrator wallowing in sorrow while numbers such as “Taking Back My Yesterday”, “That’ll Be Just Fine”, and “Get Up and Give It One More Try” exhibit positive undertones of acceptance, reclamation, and determination instilling in the listeners that the stages of grief are ever evolving.
Integrating elements of vital humor to counterpoint the pain of sadness, Bill and the Belles have done a magnificent job of not only creating an album capturing the nuances of the human condition but also a record that divulges their growth as a band, incorporating new instrumentation such as keys and drums, along with tighter musicianship and more deeply imbued lyrics. Happy Again is the band made anew and if it’s any indication of what Bill and the Belles has in store for us in the years to come, then we most certainly have something to look forward to. (by Mason Winfree)
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