Album Review – Luke Bell’s Self-Titled Album

We’re always so concerned with the concept of “saving” country music. I’m not just talking about saving it in the mainstream. If you don’t think that the independent side of country music has its fair share of trends then you’re wrong. While a lot of artists have chosen to incorporate horns in their music simply for the sake of being popular, some artists have chosen to stick to their guns and release what they want to.

The self-titled album from Luke Bell is of the latter description. It’s very rare that I review something from an artist that the readers of this blog already know a lot about. Indeed, Luke Bell has been heralded as the next big thing in country music, and deservingly so. After signing with Thirty Tigers earlier this year Luke Bell decided to revamp his 2014 album, Don’t Mind If I Do by pulling it from all outlets and starting over. The result is five tracks that have carried over to his new self-titled album as well as new songs. The hype surrounding Luke Bell isn’t just for show, nor are there are sneaky marketing gimmicks. This guy is just plain and simply the real deal.

It’s really hard to articulate what makes the self-titled album from Luke work so damn well. It’s like a painting at a museum. You lose yourself in it and it’s just hard to describe the beauty of what pulls you in. Make no mistake, not only is this one of the best country albums you’ll hear this year, it’s one 2016’s best, period.

Hearing this album is like catching up with a long-lost friend that you haven’t seen in awhile. It’s like stepping into a time machine and going back to the very early days of country music when lonesome blues and steel guitars were just being introduced to the world. Indeed, this album is most certainly a “throwback” but at its core it’s just country music the way God intended. Steel guitar, fiddle, bouncy piano keys, heavenly melodic hooks, great songwriting and a warm inviting vocal are what this album is all about. You can make the comparison to Sturgill Simpson’s High Top Mountain if you want, especially since their respective rises to fame parallel each other, but where High Top explored the outlaw era in country music, Luke Bell takes us back to the very beginning of it all.

Right from the opening of “Sometimes” you just feel like you’re in an era you probably didn’t grow up in. And while this song is about heartbreak it’s one of the catchiest tunes you’ll hear all year. The driving locomotive rhythm of “All Blue” is just another example of how my words can’t do this album the full justice it deserves. This isn’t just a fantastic album because it’s country. It’s a fantastic album because it captures the very best elements of country music. There’s themes of drinking, heartbreak and life on the road, basic themes that made country music what it is today. The best part is that not a single track here relies on clichés and instead relies on trying to deliver a damn good song.

“Loretta” just may be the album highlight sitting atop a pile of gold. It’s a waltz tune that leaves us to witness a dying love. It’s amazing how upbeat Luke can sound on tracks like “Sometimes” and “Where Ya Been?” while at the same time sounding so convincing on a more melancholy track such as this. That fiddle play all throughout is just marvelous. Heck, Luke can even yodel, something that hasn’t been seen in country music in God knows how long. “Workin’ Man’s Dream” is the shining example of this. Another album highlight for me is “The Great Pretender” where see our male “protagonist” use women night after night only to be paid back by the very end. I’ve said it before in this review but I need to say it again, this is country music the way it was intended to be.

This album doesn’t waste any time, and for some people, the shortness may be what keeps this album from truly transcending to excellent for them. For me though, I think this album is a nice little package of straight up, no frills country music.

Luke Bell didn’t go into this process with a throwback sound in mind, he just wanted to make the album he desired. It’s not an album that’s meant to show off the glory days of country music. It’s meant to go back to its roots and explore the sound that a lot of artists have strayed from. This might sound like a weak ending but there’s really no other way to describe this album other than fantastic and definitely a leader in the clubhouse for the best albums of 2016 thus far.

Best Tracks: “All Blue”, “Loretta”, “The Pretender”

(8/10)

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