Today, Bill and The Belles release their debut studio album, DreamSongs, Etc. via Jalopy Records. From the foothills of Blue Ridge in Johnson City, Tennessee, Bill and The Belles captivate fans with rich vocal harmonies and simple catchy melodies, built on a strong foundation of love for early American music. Recorded in just two days inside a beautiful old farmhouse in the rolling hills of Southeast Virginia, the album has been critically acclaimed by outlets like American Songwriter, Bluegrass Situation, PopMatters, and No Depression, who said the record, “... may be the most innovative modern interpretation of vintage roots music.” Bill and The Belles are currently touring the East Coast (full dates below) and will showcase at AmericanaFest next month. DreamSongs, Etc. is available today on Amazon, Apple Music, Spotify, and on the band’s website.
Prior to forming Bill and the Belles, lead singer and guitarist Kris Truelsen sang in a honky-tonk band with Kalia Yeagle, an Alaska-grown fiddler and singer. Moving beyond the realm of early country, they started working up a few songs with friend and banjo player Grace Van’t Hof. As he recalls, “We quickly discovered our mutual love for rich vocal harmonies and simple catchy melodies.
With the addition of bass player Karl Zerfas, Bill and the Belles stepped into the role of house band upon the launch of a live radio show, Farm and Fun Time, presented by Radio Bristol. Truelsen started that community radio station, housed within the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Tennessee, in 2015. Along with sharing the stage with the nation’s top roots artists (Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives and Earls of Leicester), the group writes and performs the snappy, comical jingles for the show’s monthly sponsors.
Namesakes Bill and Belle Reed, performers from the 1920s who recorded the songs “Old Lady and the Devil” and “You Shall Be Free” in Johnson City, continue to be inspiration for the band. Truelsen says, “That was the first time I heard ‘Old Lady and the Devil,’ and since then it’s become clear to me why it’s stood the test of time. Simple, plaintive, stripped-down but incredibly expressive, tough as nails and funny as hell. I first heard that side on the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, a collection that continues to inspire. Our band’s name is a way to honor their music, the music of this place, and this region in general that we’ve come to call home.”
With their enchanting debut album, DreamSongs, Etc., Bill and the Belles capture the freewheeling, lighthearted approach to music that has endeared them to listeners of every generation. With a spirited sound that falls somewhere between old-time country and vaudeville, the group puts its own spin on a golden era of music, specifically the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. “We like old music and some of us are consumed by it,” says Truelson with a knowing laugh. “But we don't have a desire to copy it. We want to sound like ourselves and tell our story.”
As a result, a majority of the material on DreamSongs, Etc., is original, ranging from the upbeat number, “Wedding Bell Chimes,” through the yearning ode to youth, “Back to My Childhood Days.” While Truelsen’s distinctive tenor anchors the project, the Tennessee-based band’s trio harmonies gleam against a backdrop of banjo, fiddle, accordion, ukulele, and clarinet. “The title seemed appropriate in that a lot of the songs are about dreaming for something better, better days, better lovers, better whatever it may be,” Truelsen says. “Not to mention many of the songs we chose to sing are about the sentimental dreamer.”
Working with engineer Joseph Dejarnette, the group recorded DreamSongs, Etc. in a mere two days inside a beautiful historic farmhouse in the rolling hills of Southeast Virginia. The trio recorded around one microphone while rounding out the sound with Evan Kinney on accordion and Aaron Olwell on clarinet. Home-cooked meals and picturesque surroundings made the experience even more rewarding. “The small cities like Johnson City and Bristol tucked in between the mountains are inspiring to me,” Truelsen says. “I find the tension of urban and countryside to be a beautiful thing.”
That inspiration and appreciation for Johnson City can be heard in DreamSongs, Etc., which includes superb renditions of Jimmie Rodgers compositions, “Carolina Sunshine Gal” and “Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues”.
“Generally speaking I'm writing from my personal experiences, though I do my best to not make songs feel like they are part of any particular time. I would like to think someone could listen to ‘Finger Pointin' Mama’ and think it was written today, or maybe their Grandma might hear it and think it was written when she was a kid. I hope timelines are blurred and that the music speaks for here and now, and for way back when.”
Aug 24 – Brooklyn, NY – Jalopy Theater
Aug 25 – Olivebridge, NY – The Hoot
Aug 30 – Stockbridge, MA – Naumkeag at Night
Sept 1 – Woodstown, NJ – Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival
Sept 7 – North Hillsdale, NY – The Old Tone Roots Music Festival
Sept 9 – New Haven, CT – Second Sunday Concert Series
Sept 13 – Bristol, TN – Birthplace of Country Music
Sept 15 – Hilham, TN – Crossing the Cumberlands Festival
Sept 15 – Nashville, TN – Official AmericanaFest Showcase (8 p.m. at The Local)
Sept 16 – Jonesborough, TN – Brews and Tunes
Sept 21 – Bristol, VA – Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion
Sept 25 – Raleigh, NC – IBMA
Sept 28 – Raleigh, NC – IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass (StreetFest)
Sept 29 – Kansas City, MO – Dust Bowl Jamboree
Oct 5 – Harlan, KY – Sorghum Stiroff
Oct 6 – Johnson City, TN – Studio One (WETS)
Oct 9 – Damascus, VA – Damascus Concert Series
Oct 13 – Floyd, VA – Floyd Country Store
Oct 20 – Big Stone Gap, VA – Home Craft Days