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Sons of Bill w/ David Wax Museum & Ottoman Turks
November 5, 2014 @ 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
SONS OF BILL
“This is a record that takes me back to some of the creative heights we achieved in Wilco,” says producer Ken Coomer about Sons of Bill’s latest LP Love and Logic, due out on Thirty Tigers September 30, 2014. “I’m only interested in making records that are still going to be relevant ten years from now, and this is one of them. It’s unmistakably the real thing.”
This is an ambitious album for the three brothers Sam, Abe, and James Wilson, who share equal duty singing and writing throughout Love and Logic. The Virginia roots obviously run deep, with dreamy pedal steel, banjo, and three part harmonies that could have only been learned at church. But the record moves into enough layered pop productions and rock and roll bravado throughout to keep you guessing as to just who these boys are, and what they’ve been listening to.
It’s easy to say that Sons of Bill can sound more like Townes Van Zandt or early R.E.M. depending on the track, even moving into their own brand of down-home psychedelia that American Songwriter described as a “countrified Pink Floyd.” But the real achievement of Love and Logic is the songwriting, the Wilson brothers’ ability to craft literate and deeply introspective lyrics while still managing to deliver it all as a rock and roll band. It’s a soul-searcher’s soundtrack for an over-stimulated age. A roots rock album that stands out in 2014.
Sons of Bill became more than Charlottesville’s best kept secret with the release of the Sirens LP, a brash rock and roll record, which debuted on the Billboard top 200 and #12 on the Heatseekers chart in 2012. The band toured extensively on both sides of the Atlantic for a year and a half and gained some notoriety for their fiery live performances and road dog work ethic. But Love and Logic certainly marks a turning point for the band– a more sober, reflective, version of themselves– the sound of a band coming into its own.
No doubt the single biggest influence on the band is their father and namesake, William Wilson, professor emeritus of theology and literature at the University of Virginia and part-time picker in the Virginia piedmont. There was no stereo in the Wilson household, but the home was filled with songs: Hymns, murder ballads, songs about love, songs about work, songs about death, all played with the passion of a southern gentleman who could never quite shake the cold light of professorial logic.
“We didn’t grow up with our parents’ Beatles and Stones records,” says Abe. “We didn’t really grow up with any records at all. We had to discover most rock and roll on our own. But we grew up with my dad singing, and felt at a young age how much it all meant to him. We learned that music wasn’t just pleasurable, it was important.” So while the subject matter of Love and Logic may not stray too far from the tradition, it’s this sense of urgency, a heady theological quality, which gives it legs, and makes Sons of Bill stand out amongst their contemporaries.
In songs like “Bad Dancer,” James (who teaches a course on William Faulkner when he’s not touring with his brothers) wrestles with young love, his father’s expectations, and the trials of being a sensitive Southern boy: “Once Southern boys they all loved R.E. Lee, and once Southern girls loved R.E.M. Were they all in confederacy against you? Or were you just like them?”
James is an obvious Virginian of the old school, being both a writer and teacher as well as a musician. While lots of people are selling the South these days– NASCAR, bass boats, and barbecue– there’s a complicated, more beautiful and literary side of Dixie that hasn’t been aired out in pop music.
“I think, in an abstract way, that Faulkner is a writer who reinvented what Southern literature means for his time and place, and he ended up with something new and yet timeless” says James. “When I listen to some so-called ‘Southern’ bands these days, I can’t help but feel some dishonesty, like what is timeless and meaningful about the people and its history is being sold cheap.”
On Love and Logic, James’ earnest, ardent voice contrasts with his brother Abe’s, a soft-spoken pianist with a sly, more British sense of melody and structure who emerges as the real poet of the band. Songs like “Lost in The Cosmos,” a haunting waltz dedicated to Big Star’s lesser known and suicidal front-man Chris Bell, lulls the listener with a cadence of searching phrases that whirr around in your head a long time after his songs have gone silent.
Sam Wilson is the eldest of the brothers and the most accomplished musician in the band, a classical guitar major who spent half a decade as a jazz musician in New York City. Sam is the reason there were no auxiliary musicians on Love and Logic, as he jumps from guitarto pedal steel, piano, dobro, vibraphone, to vocals depending on the track. But it’s Sam’s sound on the pedal steel that really holds Love and Logic together sonically, as it moves from folksy to ethereal, familiar to unexpected, glib to heartbreaking.
What makes Sons of Bill so great is their ability to be so unabashedly at home with themselves in a time when some roots bands feel like they are trying a little bit too hard, and rock and roll bands are starting to feel desperately over-conceptualized. Maybe that’s part of playing music with your brothers: No point in faking it.
DAVID WAX MUSEUM
When future music historians look back at the strong currents circulating between the Americas in the 21st century, they will find Los Lobos, Calexico, and a charismatic Missourian singing tight harmony with a Southern belle rattling the jawbone of a donkey. David Wax and Suz Slezak front the David Wax Museum, and together with their band they fuse traditional Mexican folk with indie rock and American roots to create a Mexo-Americana aesthetic. Combining Latin rhythms, infectious melodies, and call-and-response hollering, DWM was hailed by TIME for its “virtuosic musical skill and virtuous harmonies” and has built a reputation among concertgoers all over the U.S, Canada, Europe and China for “kicking up a cloud of excitement with their high-energy border-crossing sensibility” (The New Yorker). With the release of Knock Knock Get Up (September 2012), David Wax Museum has reached a level of cross-cultural integration and musical fluency that allows them to speak electrifying and heartfelt poetry with a tongue that is wholly their own.
Knock Knock Get Up is a fiercely original, rhythmically undeniable love letter to the Museum’s growing global audience. It’s peppered with field recordings and natural sounds from the city of Santiago, Tuxtla in the Mexican state of Veracruz. From deep in sun-drenched southern Mexico where most of the album’s songs were conceived, the earliest version of Knock Knock Get Up traveled all the way to the frozen winter landscape of the Great North Sound Society in southern Maine. The album is the band’s second made in collaboration with producer Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter), and was recorded in a month-long marathon at Kassirer’s rustic farmhouse studio in January 2012. The Wax Museum’s fourth LP is a mature and playful evolution of the band’s sound: classical Mexican strumming patterns are translated onto electric guitars sporting halos of fuzz; the leona, a deep-voiced traditional Mexican guitar plays licks like an old-time, stand-up bass; and the track “Vivian” was first written as a bluegrass hoedown before it grew a Caribbean inspired accordion hook and a Brazilian drum part in the studio. With an expanded musical palate of autoharps, organs and mariachi trumpet loops, Knock Knock Get Up is gritty, intoxicating and vibrantly lush.
David Wax Museum’s eclectic sound has deep roots in Mexican and American soil. On several trips south of the border, including a yearlong Harvard fellowship, David Wax has immersed himself in the country’s rich traditional music culture, son mexicano, learning from the form’s living masters. Suz Slezak was homeschooled by her father on a small farm in rural Virginia, and reared on music – old time, Irish, classical, and folk. The two met in 2007 and began blending their unique musical perspectives to form the band.
The bonfire of success David Wax Museum has kindled with its innovative, grass-roots approach is currently roaring. After years busking at house concerts and touring with The Avett Brothers, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and the Old 97s, DWM picked up the 2010 Boston Music Awards Americana Artist of the Year. In 2011 they released their second album, the acclaimed Everything Is Saved. The album’s single “Born with a Broken Heart” won the BMA’s Song of the Year. But critical mass came with the band’s breakout performance at the 2010 Newport Folk Festival, an opportunity won by DWM fans in an online competition. NPR called their concert at Newport a highlight of the entire weekend, Bob Boilen of All Songs Considered filed their sound under “pure, irresistible joy”, and the Museum was invited back to Newport to play the 2011 main stage. With an illustration in The New Yorker, #8 on Paste Magazine’s list of the Best Live Acts of 2011, and a nod from TIME magazine as one of the top ten acts of 2011’s South by Southwest, David Wax Museum has become one of the hottest new indie bands around.
Ottoman Turks is a Dallas/Bryan/College Station-based four piece that was formed at the beginning of 2010 out of the ashes of a former band. Somebody had written a few songs, so we all got together and figured them out somewhat and then we played two shows without knowing what we were doing. They went well enough, so we figured we’d continue.
Over the years we have gained and lost a couple members, but the core of the group, and the sound we hope to cultivate, have remained essentially the same. A mixture of rough and rowdy blues, fast train songs and sad country ballads, with some skewed jazz and doo wop thrown in.
We have been repeatedly praised for our energetic live shows, which is where we have our most fun. The songs we write are largely built for the stage, and we prefer to showcase them that way. We appeal to a large array of audiences, and have played shows that reflect that – from biker parties by the Brazos to a grocery store opening in a Dallas suburb (that one was a weird one).