One came out of modern bluegrass before delivering one of PopMatter’s top albums of 2015 and the other has sought to innovative his scene with a respective nod towards the alternative soundscape, but no matter how you look at it, the country scene is being led into the latter half of the 2010s by Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson — arguably salvaging what respectable bits and pieces are still in working order for the genre as far as radio representation goes. Pair this with some femme fatales like Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price, and you have a solid quartet of individual heroes and heroines set to revive country into something more than listenable, but also something beyond telling more than just the American everyman’s story about cool beer and big pickups.
Immediately, Luke Bell rings in on his self-titled album with opener “Sometimes”, singing with a gentle delivery that comes across as instantly infectious as he croons with a sweltering verve: “Sometimes, I’m alright / and sometimes I get you off of my mind / but other times, all I do is cry.” The track comes complete with a warmth that is an auspicious peering into country’s future and a rundown of what made the genre such a success in American roots music from the get-go. A collective of piano, bass, drums, fiddle, and electric guitar complete a lush ragtime-esque instrumentation which, alongside Bell’s immediately recognizable, distinctive tone and delivery, makes for a promising first landing into his decided soundscape to inhabit.
Follow-up track “All Blue” features other facets of the country chestnut makeup, including a rollicking overall instrumental featuring hallmark appearances by the harmonica and dobro. It emanates a classic sound that cedes well into the self-examining tune, “Where Ya Been”, one of the album’s brighter moments. Bell takes a page from out of the Elvis Presley recipe book on “Hold Me” as he gradually builds into a playful, woeful seduction, beckoning the subject to hold him closer, and later pays homage to a sickly love on “Loretta”. Even then, the latter half of the record may be even more impressive than the former, featuring an especially memorable dance-along number on “Glory and the Grace” before slowing things down on the closer, “The Great Pretender”, where Bell yearns yet again for an old flame set to an arrangement equal parts country and old school rock-and-roll.
Beyond just being catchy to the point of being virulent, it marks an understanding of the pure country orientation which clearly seeps through Bell’s person straight down to the very center of his musical bones. There is something about the music and how he fronts it on the entirety of his debut that marks an advantageous head-start for his career in country. He very nearly has every right and notion to be clumped together with the bold, similarly authentic artists breaking out into country mainstream in their own way even now, and really, the future could only prove to shine even brighter for him. All in all, Luke Bell makes a fine first case for the existence of a full, rewarding career for our titular hero.