Luke Bell Luke Bell on LP + Download
Luke Bell's backstory could've come out of the pages of a novel by Jim Harrison, Thomas McGuane or Cormac McCarthy. A fifth-generation descendant of Wyoming homesteaders, the ranch hand turned troubadour has seen a lot of life in his 26 years on this mortal coil, and his self-titled album, serves as a rollicking document of his experiences. The record is teeming with colorful characters, captured in hardscrabble yarns of living hard and drinking harder, making bad choices and laughing them off. There's a little bit of their author in each of these flawed but redeemable characters – and at a time when authenticity is in short supply, Luke Bell has come along to remind us what it feels like to be truly alive and open to the possibilities of existence in a captivating song cycle that puts the cowboy back into Country & Western.
A life-embracing, go-for-the-gusto spirit animates Bell's vividly drawn characters, but an aching melancholy lurks just below the surface. "Sometimes" embodies the dynamic of the album and of Bell's music in general, working on several levels at once, intertwining life's highs and lows with poetic concision. Little wonder it was chosen as the album's opening track. On the panoramic "The Glory and the Grace," Bell comes off as a latter-day, honky-tonkin' Woody Guthrie, while a weeping pedal steel deepens the sense of regret in "Loretta," with its following line, "I can't see it getting' better"; it's a barroom ballad worthy of George Jones.
You'll catch a whiff of the Crescent City on "Ragtime Troubles," with its whiskey drinking, cigarette smoking, poker playing protagonist, who's reveling in the process of "overcoming certain feelings you have in your youth and learning how to enjoy yourself," as Bell puts it. "The Bullfighter," another linchpin song, gets inside the head of a familiar character – "the drunken male," Bell says. "It's a boasting song about pretending you're the toughest person at the bar lookin' for a fight, drunk, and playacting that character over and over again. You see it all the time – somebody that's swaggering a big swagger, but they're really just sad. I know, because I've been that guy."
These examples just scratch the surface of this high-revving album, with its dead-honest narratives filled with photographically detailed figures and situations.