From Robert Ellis to Margo Price, many of Nashville’s current voices are channeling and reinterpreting a collective fascination with those of the past — Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, George Jones.
But, Luke Bell has grabbed ahold of the throwback country dial and turned it all the way to 11 with his big, well-deep baritone and traditional arrangements that sound like they’ve been out all night at a honky tonk and haven’t bothered to clean up. Played out of context, you might even think Bell’s latest self-titled album was actually recorded back in 1976, maybe some obscure label’s reissue of a forgotten, old-school recording from those days of Waylon, Willie, and the boys.
Bell discovered country music growing up on his grandparent’s ranch in Wyoming (“Lots of hot days, Randy Travis tapes and old pick-up trucks with broken door handles.”), and dropped out of college at 21 to head South and pursue playing professionally in Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana. Eventually he ended up in Nashville with his beloved ’95 Buick LeSabre playing regularly at Music City dive Santa’s Pub and recording his second album at the Bomb Shelter, producer Andrija Tokic’s old shotgun house turned recording destination for musicians across the country. He returned to the studio again to record this album with Tokic who has produced for Alabama Shakes, Benjamin Booker, Hurray For The Riff Raff among others. The result: a familiar, friendly sound that steers clear of nostalgic act, but keeps true to its roots. Bell’s songs might convince you that your dancing boots and a beer may be the best antidote to the blues.
Luke Bell will be out on June 17th, but you can get a Southern Living exclusive first-listen above. We also caught up with Bell this past weekend as he played a set at Bonnaroo before heading on to play shows in New York and back in Nashville.
SL: What were your first interactions with country music and how did they shape your approach to your own music?
LB: I grew up listening to country music, but really started learning a lot about playing country when I moved to Austin and more about the Honky-Tonk style when I started sitting in with Santas Ice Cold Pickers in Nashville. [But when I was younger] I found an old Merle Haggard record in my grandfathers basement in Wyoming, which was the first introduction.
Can you talk about the recording process of this album and why it sounds like it could have been made decades ago?
We recorded the record in an all analog studio in East Nashville. Our sound comes from recording onto analog tape allowing for a really warm sound.
For many artists, there’s a fine line between honoring classic country and sounding like a parody. Is that something you think about when you’re writing lyrics?
No, I don’t worry about it. I like that writing style because it is simple, strait forward and direct.
You grew up in Wyoming, but ventured South to do music professionally. How has living in Austin, New Orleans, and now Nashville influenced your growth musically?
I’ve met a lot of talented friends across the country. I’m lucky to get to stay in contact with them and trade songs records and ideas.
You’ll be playing several shows in your new hometown of Nashville this summer. What are a few of your favorite places in the city?
Santa’s Pub and my front porch.
To pre-order Luke Bell, click here.