It might be me, or my generation, or perhaps simply the modern world, but every so often I feel an absolute compulsion to find something real and pure to hit the ‘reset’ button and feed the soul. In much the same way a day spent in the mountains that are calling to me as I write this, there is something romantic and beautiful about the music of The Dinner Belles. Much more than bluegrass, or folk, or country, The River and the Willow is a celebration of Americana, of story-telling, and of the unifying spirit of music.
The Dinner Belles have captured a sound that is as familiar as it is captivating. Throughout this collection, there are nods to the great small town bar room, dance hall, and road house traditions, while leaving a genuine simplicity that lends itself to front-porch-pickin’. In short, it is clear that this music was as much fun to make as it is to listen to.
Among the highlights from The River and the Willow are the opening song, “Back Home (In The Valley),” a classic country shuffle that laments the loss of a home and simplicity I think we can all relate to. A very humanizing piece to start off with, it won me over on first listen at the end of the bridge with the marvelous line “And I won’t understand why I can’t forget this forgotten land/it haunts me to my very bones.”
Immediately following is “I Might Do Everything Wrong” which puts a fantastic modern slant on the gospel country of years gone by. Honest and heart-wrenching, a parent doubts his own adequacy as a parent in a whimsical song sure to get in your head. The vocal harmonies on this tune are spot on and help to elevate this tune several notches.
Not to be missed is the title track, slotted right in the middle of the album – a true ‘kitchen sink’ type of song that has everything you could hope for. With a slow wandering feel building to a brilliant double time shuffle rock section, there is little left out of this song. While it can be trite and commonplace to applaud a band for their range in song-writing and style, I’d like to point out and praise the emotional range of The Dinner Belles. Exploring topics, ranging from divorce to parenthood to taming the desire to roam (in particular, the beautiful song “Ocean”) to the youthful search for one’s own identity (see “(I Ain’t No) Sonny Boy”), the ‘Belles have presented a well-rounded and highly approachable record.
Hailing from a part of the world once dominated by the amazing Ronnie Hawkins, there are undoubtedly many streams feeding the well of influence they draw from. I can’t help but feel like if there was ever a band that stands in the gap between early Crosby, Stills, & Nash / Jackson Browne / The Band and more modern “folk rockers” such as The Avett Brothers, it has to be The Dinner Belles.
Without fear of ego, and a pure joy of music guiding them, this is a great collection to find yourself to. I had the great fortune of playing it on my way to a chill day of fishing, and it was an absolutely perfect companion. I suggest you make yourself a cup of tea, park yourself in front of the fireplace, and enjoy The River and The Willow. I’m certain you’ll agree it is a fresh breath that can’t quite be placed in any specific genre – but that it never tried to be anything it isn’t. Enjoy!
Kevin is a contributor at Nanobot. He enjoys the outdoors, music, and helping people.