What does it sound like?:
There are three brothers in Sons Of Bill, Sam, Abe and James, alongside a rhythm section of Seth Green, bass, and Todd Wellons, drums. Bill Wilson is a musician and professor of philosophical theology. Like that other group of Wilson brothers, Sons Of Bill sing in harmony. Their voices are much closer to each other than The Beach Boys, so the harmonies are tight and creamy, with the lead voice feeling a part of the whole vocal texture. They may not quite reach the hosannas of the Beach Boys but there is plenty of sunshine to enjoy.
Unlike The Beach Boys, they can actually play well, too. Their sound is originally derived from Country and Folk. Sam, for example, is adept on pedal steel and mandolin. Over five albums they have been developing musically, tip-toeing through a gentle Americana and a purring soft rock to finally settle on a shiny, jangly pop. Sam has set his Country instruments aside and gone on a quest to find a long lost Robin Guthrie effects pedal. Imagine The Avett Brothers transforming into The Lotus Eaters circa 1983 via early Wilco and mainstream R.E.M. The production is as sleek as an ultra modern Richard Meier kitchen. It’s a sound that suits their voices and their songwriting has adjusted too. There may be few big choruses but there are plenty of flowing melodies. Several songs here could grace a chart radio station.
You need to work hard to get past all the delectable sounds to pay close attention to the lyrics. The Wilsons come across as well-educated, sensitive souls with a few spiritual scabs to pick at from their upbringing in the American Bible Belt. Divorces, addictions, mental ill-health and a hand threatening injury to the young guitarist have brought a bleak humour since the last album. It gives the listener something tasty to chew on with repeated listens.
The only fly in the ointment is the opening track, Sweeter, Sadder, Farther Away. It is downbeat, mainly acoustic and sung with a frown. It’s completely unrepresentative of the other nine tracks and is potentially enough to put people off. Has there ever been such an anomalous start to an album? It would be much better placed at the end. Oh God Ma’am is a title that is too clever for its own good and the cover art is somewhat baffling, suggesting indoor gloom rather than outdoor sun. Otherwise, Sons Of Bill are very difficult to dislike.
Creamy harmonies, ephemeral guitar sound, flowing melodies, sleek production. If Spotify put together a ‘Summer Barbecue’ playlist, expect to hear Sons Of a Bill. They won’t disturb the neighbours.
What does it all *mean*?
Sons Of Bill are following their muse and, in the process, are broadening their fan base. Good luck to them.
Goes well with…
An open-top car, charred meat and shorts.
Might suit people who like…