Turn It Up!
I’ve been blasting an early release of the Sons of Bill’s new album “Sirens” in my car for the past few days, and I can’t seem to make myself turn the volume down. I know I should know better having already abused my eardrums years ago singing and playing with loud stage monitors, but I have no self-control this time. The album is that good.
I suppose I could be a little biased -- I’ve followed the band from the beginning. Even before the beginning, really. I first met Sons of Bill front man, James Wilson, ten years ago when his former bluegrass band, Free Union Farm Boys, was playing at an afternoon party in Batesville, Virginia. The players had all just graduated from high school, and I remember being really impressed with their sound and stage presence. James – clearly the front man -- was on upright bass and vocals. During a break, I struck up a conversation with him. We talked about his goals for the group and about the music scene in general. He was very focused and polite, and it took quite a bit of convincing to get him to stop referring to me as “m’am.” He was also incredibly passionate about music.
Ten years later, now on guitar -- and joined by his brothers Sam and Abe (lead guitar and keyboards) as well as long-time friends Seth Green and Todd Wellons (bass and drums) -- James is still passionate about music, and rightfully so. Just after Sons of Bill put out their self-released debut album “A Far Cry from Freedom” back in 2006, they signed with Red Light Management – the same company that manages the Dave Matthews Band, Alicia Keys, the Decembrists, Tim McGraw, Taj Mahal, Amos Lee and Mary Chapin Carpenter, to mention only a few.
The band’s second recording “One Town Away” was released in 2009. Produced by Jim Scott (Wilco, Tom Petty, Whiskeytown), the album garnered fans across the country and shows with Robert Earl Keen, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and Jason Isbell (formerly of the Drive-by-Truckers). Not bad for a young group just out of the gate.
In an interview a few years back, guitarist Sam Wilson summed up their sound pretty well saying, "We really just wanted to capture the timeless spirit of country music without denying the rock influences we've all accumulated in various bands over the years."
Speaking of influences, I’m also a big fan of the band’s namesake, Bill Wilson, who happens to be the Wilson brothers’ father and one of their main musical mentors. Throughout their childhood, the boys heard their dad playing and singing folk and country tunes on his guitar. Now Bill joins the band -- along with a dozen other Charlottesville guest musicians -- every December for their annual Charlottesville Christmas show benefiting local charities. It’s a family affair, really. The Wilson’s brother, Luke, and sister, Julia, play in the show as well, and Todd’s dad, Bill, sits in on drums.
When I asked James why the band puts so much time and energy into producing a show every year with so many other artists, his response was clear. In this age of digital music and social media – when music can be created by one person alone in a room with a synthesizer and a listener need only sit at a desk and click on computer to hear music -- the band feels it’s important to help create and maintain a sense of community – for musicians as well as their fans. What can I say? I’m a sucker when it comes to family, community and live music.
Now, three years and countless miles since their last recording, the Sons of Bill are set to release their long-awaited third CD “Sirens” on March 26. Produced by David Lowery of Cracker (who also produced Counting Crows), the band and their fans are hoping this will be the album that takes them to the next level -- the one that says they have officially “arrived.” Riding around listening to the CD blaring in my car, I am totally engrossed in the music. I’m singing along, keeping the beat, banging my hand against the steering wheel. I’m missing turns and driving past destinations. While I may end up a bit lost or late, I feel quite certain the band has arrived.
Maybe I’m biased. Or maybe – and I’m feeling pretty confident about this – it’s just a great album. Turn it up!