Folk music is rooted in stories, a tradition that’s been passed down over many generations but constantly evolves as it takes the shape of modern society and culture. Folk artists pride themselves in maintaining this evolving folk tradition, writing music that tells the story of their lives and remains authentic to the narrative-centered roots of folk. The Lone Bellow follow this tradition in their new album Half Moon Light, dedicating the project to the small, often unnoticed details of the story of their lives, and extracting wisdom from these moments.
The fifteen-song album is cathartic in nature, a space for the trio to soothe their brokenness and the brokenness they see in the world. “Let it break you / Let it help you lay down what you held onto,” the group pleads in “Count on Me.” The somber undertones in many of the songs point to themes of death and loss. “I Can Still Feel You Dancing,” is a eulogy for lost relatives and the piano interludes throughout the album — “Intro,” “Interlude,” and “Outro” — are recordings from the funeral for lead singer Zach Williams’ grandfather.
Despite the album’s heaviness, the trio’s musical performance is life-giving. Anyone who’s listened to a Lone Bellow album or has seen them perform live knows that their harmonies are unmatched; The passion the trio possesses allows their stories to come alive. The band offers moments of life in songs like “Good Times,” urging their audience to embrace the lives they have while they’re still around. As they chant “Let no good time slip away,” the trio creates a sense of community that mimics a summer night, singing songs around a campfire with the people you love.
I got to witness the magic of The Lone Bellow at their recent performance at Ann Arbor Folk Festival when the group performed a short set comprised of their older songs as well some songs off the new album. After listening to the new project, I was surprised to find that the tracks on the album sounded nearly identical to their live performance. With its stripped back vocals and guitars, Half Moon Light allows the musical talents of the group to shine through in their simplicity.
Half Moon Light, in its soulful, folksy nature, is a celebration of life itself. Clearly The Lone Bellow have weathered highs and lows since their last album release, and the way they approached Half Moon Light as a space to let go of all the pain they’ve hung onto is a testament to the way music can heal. Like their prior albums, Half Moon Light preserves folk tradition through its story-telling and capacity to reach people at a personal level. The Lone Bellow embraced the opportunity to open up about their own lives, and now they’re taking us with them as they try to cope with and understand the moments in life we all struggle with.