So we’ve established that I firmly believe that JD McPherson is the last bastion of true, honest-to-goodness rock ‘n’ roll. And because he surrounds himself with like-minded artists who are just as invested in preserving its heritage and integrity, one unexpected side effect of being a fan of his is discovering his associates too, bands I never would’ve known about otherwise.
One such band is a group called the Bellfuries. Just four guys, two guitars, a bass (upright, of course), a drum kit, and one of the most unique, distinguishable sets of lead vocals you ever heard. Although I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard them. Until about three years ago, I hadn’t either.
This was one of my favorite songs off JD’s first album “Signs and Signifiers”, but I had no idea it was actually a cover until he said as much during that first show in Haddon Heights.
The song, said he, was actually by his “good friends in Austin, Texas; the Bellfuries.” To which I said, “Who?” I looked them up and came across the original version of “Your Love (All That I’m Missin’)” as played by the band that wrote it.
Decidedly different, isn’t it? I must admit that at first, I wasn’t particularly impressed (but cut me some slack – at the time, if that McPherson fella wasn’t singing, I didn’t want any part of it), but the vintage-y sound piqued my curiosity. In the throes of my own personal roots revival, I bought their first album, “Just Plain Lonesome”, as well as a bunch by similar artists and rotated them all, which meant that I only gave it a few cursory, non-committal listens.
But last summer (right before I followed JD and the guys across New England, in fact), the Bellfuries released a new album. And it had been produced by someone I’d come to know – Jimmy Sutton, JD’s bassist and founder of Hi-Style Records. Jimmy was also the mastermind behind “Signs and Signifiers” which is, in my humble opinion, one of the best, most complete albums to be released in years. In other words, if Jimmy had a hand in it, you knew it had to be good. So of course I ordered it as soon as it was released.
And it knocked my socks off. If their first album took time to grow on me, then this new one was rapturous love at first listen. Every single song was terrific – the originals, the covers, the uptempo songs, the ballads. And the lyrics are incredible – thoughtful, meaningful, beautiful. It’s so unique, so entertaining, so good.
Being that a) I adored the new album, b) I was in the midst of my rediscovery of the awesomeness of live music, and c) I was encouraged to check out their show by none other than Mr. Sutton himself, I had to catch them when they came to town. And it just so happened that the second stop on their tour promoting the new album was Philly. So on a beautiful late-summer weeknight, my husband and I made our way there. Now, rush hour in the middle of the week in Center City Philadelphia can be a nightmare. But we progressed deeper into the city and encountered nothing more than a handful of cars. We literally had the roads all to ourselves. It was one of the eeriest things I’ve ever experienced. And then we realized – the city was a mere twelve hours away from shutting down in anticipation of the papal visit. All roads going in and out of Philadelphia were about to be closed.
It must’ve been enough to scare away all but the most diehard fans – we were the first people in the venue when they opened the doors. We grabbed a seat and settled in to wait for the show to start…and the guy at the table next to us leaned over and started chatting. It was thus that we spent a half hour talking to Joey, the lead singer.
Thanks to the pope, the crowd was scanty…there might’ve been two dozen people there, some of whom were the family of bassist Jeff (aka Shecky), who hail from the Philly area. You couldn’t help but feel bad for the guys – it was their first big headlining tour, promoting their brand-spanking new album, and for it to coincide with one of the biggest events the city had ever seen was just awful, lousy timing. So it might not’ve been terribly auspicious for them…but it was pretty awesome for us. The show was terrific, even though the crowd was thin and sedate (and this audience member came to the sad realization that they were NOT, in fact, name-dropping her in “Under the Light of the Moon”). Having an opportunity to talk to the band made the evening even more special. I don’t have a musical background and I don’t personally know anyone who does, so I tend to put musically-minded people on a pedestal and think that I’m not worthy of being in their company. It’s easy to forget that they’re human too and are generally nice, normal people. The Bellfuries (as well as the guys in JD McPherson’s band) have proven that to me. I have to thank them for taking the time to bridge that gap, both in person and on social media (they’ve got one of the most entertaining Twitter accounts ever and you need to follow them, like, now).
And so, after harassing them for months about coming back to Philly (although with their history here – battling the pope for the affection of Philadelphians, battling the Philly airport repeatedly over a variety of things, etc etc – it’s no wonder why they want to stay away), they have finally acquiesced. I’ll be there in the front row at the TLA on Thursday night, singing and dancing and making a general fool of myself. And that, my friends, is the best endorsement I can offer. See you there!