Severe weather surrounded the greater Nashville area when we pulled into the vacant state fairgrounds for our session with The Whistles and The Bells. The specific location for the shoot inside the expansive blacktop was a hangar used to wash and clean pigs before being sold to the highest bidder so that they may be eventually slaughtered – a lovely tale of pageantry. Nevertheless, the hangar was clean and completely empty minus a few plastic wheel barrels and a couple of business signs which were easy enough to remove from the shot. The band quickly arrived after we did and the storm showed up just after that. The tapping of heavy rain beat over our heads on the metal roof while we set up cameras and lights and the group fiddled with tuners and adjusted drums.
The music of The Whistles and the Bells is the crafted birth child of front-man Bryan Simpson, who calls these songs ‘the autobiographical snapshot of the personal earthquake surrounding the education that studying my creator has been’. These songs, coincidentally, display a constant unraveling of ideas and musical movements which seem to play directly off his own description of the work. Folk, grudge and ambience blend into one another over the top of emphatic vocal melodies and lyrics from the Nashville native with a raspy tenor voice. In a spurt of good-luck, as sound engineer Corey Hadden gives the thumbs up that we are ready to roll, the rain stops, and even the handful of fairground workers who were there that day decided to stop and listen.
The first song was “Transistor Resistor”, which is a straight forward tune that is sung with the reverence of a pulpit preacher while actually describing the coming-to-Jesus of a loss soul over the radio on a lonesome drive. A powerful mantra in the verse is the phrase, “Tonight we have a choice/tonight we have a choice” that will not soon leave you. Banjo player Matt Menefee shines through with a dangly trapeze act solo that hauntingly creeps into the mix before taking over your ears.
The second song, “Mercy Please”, is actually the first song off the self-titled album, which was four years in the making. The lyrics are powerful and drive the song until the bridge summons the ghost of all those floating souls who might in fact be in need of the exact mercy he speaks of. A tasteful and surprising song at every turn.
The final installment of the session was a two song mixture entitled “Shadow of Death/Love in A Minor Key”. The first is mainly comprised of mandolin, flanging guitar, and backing harmonies and while the song lacks many instruments, the small amount make up for it with blazing offensive strikes at the strings which are preceded by a full band punch once “Love in A Minor Key” kicks in. The eeriness infused in this love song is beautiful and exotic with guitarist Adam Stockdale playing lead and gliding on the music like a big wave surfer. It is a full palate of taste to be experienced.
Thanks again to The Whistles and the Bells, Nashville State Fairgrounds, and all of you reading, watching, and listening!
Written by Curtis Ford
OurVinyl | Contributor