What We're Listening to: Sons of Bill

Southern Sounds

What We're Listening to: Sons of Bill

By David ThierFebruary 4, 2013

I first heard James Wilson on a burned CD that a friend of his gave me. I found one track, right at the end, “Savannah Rain.” It was a punishing song, small and sad with a rising, strained chorus that somehow made me romanticize long drives on the Savannah city limits even more than I already did. It was one of those times when you feel embarrassed for feeling like it’s about you, but you feel that way just the same.

Wilson’s fairly embarrassed about that CD now, but I still listen to it. Like me and the time I spent aimlessly driving around Savannah, he’s gotten his act together. A Charlottesville boy by birth, he got his brothers to come back to Virginia and make one of the most arresting bands I've heard in years. One night, early on, he was playing an open mike with his brother Abe when he introduced the act as the sons of Bill because, well, they were. It had a ring.

Sons of Bill evolved into one of my favorite bands today. They're a hard band with a strained edge even on their softer songs, and I haven’t heard a song that doesn’t hurt at least a little bit. They’re self-aware enough to make even the most saccharine sentiment honest, but not so much that it becomes twee. There’s full on Southern romanticism here, just not all the time.

The band's first three albums move from the hard-line country to something like Southern rock into an indie songwriter sound reminiscent of Ryan Adams on their latest album, Sirens. It’s their earnestness that makes them all work. It’s the idea that you can go ahead and listen to “Savannah Rain” while driving around Savannah, even in the rain. And it feels alright.

The band is currently on tour with dates scheduled across the South through May, but you can get a first listen of their song “Santa Ana” off Sirens now. (Faulkner fans be sure to take note of the opening lyrics.)