On the back of two soul-spun albums, Americana outfit The Lone Bellow had little left to prove. Their legacies forged on songs like “Bleeding Out,” “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” and the titular cut from 2015’s Then Came the Morning, the trio ⎯⎯ made up of instrumentalists and vocalists Zach Williams, Kanene Donehey Pipkin and Brian Elmquist, who wield gospel-contorted harmonies only ever matched by their playful melodies ⎯⎯ weave an even more personal, intricate and harrowing set. Walk Into a Storm is toasted along the edges with their built-in gutsiness and seems to rise up in delicate tragedy from a foundation they’ve so masterfully plotted. Such moments as “Deeper in the Water,” a superb, back-breaking opener worthy of Patty Griffin, “May You Be Well” and “Feather” feel like retreads: but their smart vocal work, overlaid onto aching production choices (thanks to industry hit-man Dave Cobb), is just as heart-breaking as on their first rodeo.
“She said you smell like cigarettes / Just like the one I left / You never comb your hair / I always make your bed,” the group paint in earnest simplicity on “Come Break My Heart Again,” buzzed strings and piano tossing out crushing blows. Then, when the players strip things further back, as they do painstakingly on the title track, the sparseness strikes much deeper. “I recall those days we felt like giving up on each other / Days I feel you’re mine / We’re nothing but trouble, and nights that I can’t mention,” a verse flutters up, prayer-like. The passage of time taunts them along their way, and the pursuit for freedom tightens their vocal prowess, which has grown at an alarming rate in two years. The restlessness pushes and pulls the needle, threading each chapter together with unwavering sadness. The album ebbs and flows in this imbalance, sending them wandering aimless, it seems, but then boils over on “Time’s Always Leaving,” a pointed fable about witnessing time’s abandonment. “Time’s always leaving, never takes off her coat / Packing her bags, never leaving a note / Seems I’m always believing she’ll stay for the night,” they sketch, depicting time as a looming, physical presence just out of their reach and drawing parallels to a scorned lover.
Elmquist, Pipkin and Williams are forthright about the pain burning a hole in their chests. “Is It Ever Going to Be Easy,” “Can’t Be Happy for Long” and “Long Way to Go” also serve as centerpieces to their story: one about suffering, failure and repentance. They don’t have the answers; nor do they know where to find them, exactly. All they can surmise is their destiny has yet to be written and is left up to happenstance. “You don’t need the hurt to make something you love / To tell you what you’re worth,” the trio report on “Between the Lines,” and later, on “Long Way to Go,” they spin darkness into light, asserting, “No shadow will remain / No darkness can contain.” The Lone Bellow have weathered the storm, quite literally, and they pass these ripened testimonials comfortingly onto the listener. “You’ve seen better days / You’re not that man in a frame, young and proud and standing tall / It’s a great big world we’ve been living / Ain’t so small what we’ve been given, friend,” they nudge in the album’s final moments.
The storm is coming, and we are more than ready.
Grade: 3.5 out of 5