Sons Of Bill – One Town Away
By Rod Ames
This review originally ran in The Texas Star Tribune back in July of this year. I believe their album deserves another look. I liked it then and I like it even more now. If you haven’t heard Sons of Bill yet, now is your chance. Do yourself a favor and give them a listen.
When I checked the mail today I was surprised to find an inconspicuous white envelope containing Sons of Bill’s new CD One Town Away (Gray Fox Records). I was even more surprised when I put it in the CD player and listened to it. `Where had this band been hiding?” I thought to myself. I hadn’t heard some good old Southern Rock in a very long time. That is, good old Southern Rock that didn’t sound like they were trying to sound like Lynard Skynard or The Allman Brothers Band. Sons of Bill possess their very own unique sound.
I don’t believe there is a soul in the band over the age of 28. That tells my they’ve had some strong influence in the world of music. And as it turns out, after reading their bio they sent along with their CD, there is; From their Father, Bill Wilson who happens to be a professor of theology (and an expert on the Southern Agrarian movement) at the University of Virginia. He must have also listened to some great music while his three son’s James, Sam, and Abe Wilson were growing up. It would sure seem that way when you listen to their new record, One Town Away. There are mentions of artists like Hank Williams, and Towns Van Zandt in their lyrics. I would be willing to lay you odds; the elder Wilson possesses recordings by these two artists along with Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. I’m really just speculating here but I bet I’m right.
James Wilson, the youngest of the Wilson Brothers, pens most of the songs and wrote my personal favorite on the record,” Going Home”. The song starts out with a profound bass beat that leads us into beautifully played lap steel with interludes of electric piano. It all comes together with James Wilson on vocals.
I especially enjoyed the second verse to the song- “I’ve traveled 900 miles and got 100 more to go/I’m searching for the steel guitar on AM radio/ I can smell the jasmine and honeysuckle on the vine/I got that old familiar feeling rolling south down 29”. It’s a simple tune both musically and lyrically but captures that southern feel perfectly. You know you’ve captured the southern experience when you can work in steel-guitar, AM radio, jasmine, honeysuckle, and “rolling south” all in one verse. Well done.
The very next tune is “Never Saw It Coming”, penned by Seth Green (bass) and James Wilson. This tune is a sharp contrast to the strong southern influences of the previous tune. It’s a tragic tale of two kids, Frank and Johnny, who for sixteen long years were bullied and “kicked around and laughed at in the gym”. Until one day they explode onto the scene, with guns blazing and blowing away their adversaries and anyone else who happened to get in their way. An interesting facet to the lyrics; “you could have been the one who took the bullet/could have been the one that held the gun.” I couldn’t help but think of Virginia Tech, or Columbine while listening to this song. I am extremely fond of songs that provoke me into thought and this one does exactly that with some powerful lyrics. Sam Wilson plays lap steel on the song that lies just beyond in the background of some great lead guitar played by James. It adds to the drama and the tragic nature of the song.
The album is expertly produced by Jim Scott who has worked with artists such as Wilco, Whiskeytown, and Tom Petty to name a few. James said, “We Just kind of took a wild shot. We’re committed to staying away from the big labels, and so we saved our pennies from playing frat parties and stuff, and we just sent him our demos. He called us up, and said, `I’m going to produce the new Wilco album, but I got three weeks. Can you get out to California?’ And so we got on a plane. It was really pretty simple.” The happening may have been simple but rest assured there is nothing simple about this record. It’s absolutely gorgeous to listen to both musically and lyrically. It’s poetry at its best set to some beautiful music.
You need to plan on hearing a lot more from Sons of Bill in the future. These guys are just getting started. You definitely need give this young and very talented group of musicians a listen.