Once upon a time country music was never questioned to be country music. It was authentically traditional through and through. Every song had some combination of a steel guitar, fiddles, harmonica and piano. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a time machine back to the golden days of country music? Well you can. Meet Luke Bell. Born in Lexington, Kentucky and raised in Cody, Wyoming, this country troubadour keeps it traditional with his music. He landed on a lot of people’s radars a few years ago when he released the album Don’t Mind If I Do. This led to him inking a deal with William Morris Endeavor and opening for the likes of Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr. and Dwight Yoakam. Now Bell is back with a new self-titled album, in which he described in an interview with Saving Country Music (recommended read) as “very much in the grounds of the traditional country songwriting format.” Well after listening to this album many times over I can confidently say that you probably won’t find a more excellent, traditional country sound this year.
Channeling his inner Hank, Bell sings of heartbreak on “Sometimes.” And when I say channel his inner Hank, everything about this song and really album take you back to country music in its purest form. There are steel guitars and fiddles throughout. Traditional country fans will instantly be in nirvana. “All Blue” is about a rambling man who’s always on the run and leaving behind his lovers as he goes. He’s all blue all the time, but knows he has to keep going and can never stay. There’s lots of harmonica throughout this one. It’s the perfect traveling song. The easy to sing along with “Where Ya Been” follows. Steel guitar and fiddle drive this easy-going, drinking song that you’ll find yourself getting stuck in your head real quick. There aren’t any frills about this song, but Luke Bell and real country music doesn’t need frills to be great.
The two stepping “Hold Me” will have you tapping your feet along with the rhythm. It’s about a heartbroken man dancing with another woman on the dance floor as he sees the woman who left him and he still loves holding the arms of another man. Part of him hopes it makes her jealous and another knows he needs someone to hold at the moment. For those who missed good old country songs you can dance to, this is your song. Next is the waltzing “Loretta,” in which a man sees his woman slowly drifting away from him. They shared a lot of great times and she used to look at him with love in her eyes. But now she’s off chasing fame while he’s left heartbroken and alone. The instrumentation throughout this entire album is excellent, but it just really stands out to me on this song. The fiddles, steel guitar and piano come together perfectly. This is how country music is meant to be heard.
Bell shows off his yodeling skills on “Workin’ Man’s Dream.” Yes, you read that right he can yodel and he’s pretty damn good at it too. You don’t hear much yodeling in country today despite it being very much a part of the history and soul of the genre as the likes of Hank, Bob Willis, Roy Rogers, Ernest Tubb and Bill Monroe yodeled in many of their songs. It’s a lost art that Bell revives with this song and it’s refreshing to hear. “Glory and The Grace” reminds of you the days when it was called country & western because there’s very much an influence from the latter in this song. As you listen to this song, it puts you in mind of a dusty old saloon with a bunch of cowboys sitting around in the old western days.
One of the standouts to me on this album is “Bullfighter.” In this song Bell sings about being the greatest bullfighter to live and how his fight will never die, even in old age. One of the reasons I enjoy this song so much is that when I hear Bell sing I hear a lot of the late, great Merle Haggard. It’s the deep, rich voice that sounds like Bell has been doing this for multiple decades. I don’t throw this comparison around lightly either. Bell is the real deal and this song is proof. Bell keeps the western influence going on “Ragtime Troubles.” The song is about a man who enjoys drinking, smoking and playing poker. Instead of feeling bad about his choices though, he enjoys them. He isn’t letting the bad times get him down and instead lets the good times roll. It’s just a fun song where you can forget your own troubles and enjoy the great music you’re hearing.
Bell closes the album out with “The Great Pretender.” This slow waltz is about a man who regularly has women fall in love with him, but he knows they’re going to be hurting after realizing he’s the great pretender who disappears after spending a night together. By the end of the song though he comes across a woman he falls in love with and she turns the table on him, as he finds a note from her after a night of love to say that she’s the great pretender herself. You spend the entire song kind of thinking this guy is a jerk, but in the end he gets a taste of his own medicine and all is right. It’s a strong song to end the album and really leaves you wanting to hear more from Bell.
Luke Bell’s new self-titled album is a traditional gem that shines from start to finish. It’s an album that couldn’t be more country if it tried. Bell is such a naturally gifted vocalist who makes it sound so easy when he sings. It can be easy to call Luke Bell a throwback, but really this is just how country music is supposed to sound. Bell is just someone who gets it. This is clear when you hear all of the steel guitar and fiddle throughout each song. It’s clear with the quality songwriting that draws from relatable and simple themes that the common man can connect with and understand through their own experiences. Bell could very well be the next big name to come from the independent country scene. He’s every bit as talented as the biggest names to come from the scene in recent years like Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton. Bell is an artist that every music fan should hear and can’t recommend this album enough.