Preview: Sons of Bill comes in loud and clear

Sons of Bill make the right call and offer six free shows in six days to fans in their home state. (Publicity Photo) Sons of Bill make the right call and offer six free shows in six days to fans in their home state. (Publicity Photo)

Sons of Bill has always been a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, but on the brand new album, Sirens, the group heavily leans on the latter. To make the album, the local crew took a short drive down I-64 and recorded with help from Cracker front man David Lowery at his Sound of Music Studios in Richmond.

From the opening take-off of lead track “Santa Ana Winds,” the album has an urgent edge that rarely lets up through 11 tracks. On “Siren Song” the band finds a pulsing tempo and visceral guitar melody akin to Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”

“This felt like an arrival point to what we’re about as a band,” said front man James Wilson. “On the first two records, we were younger and still trying to figure it out. At this point we wanted to make a rock record that felt like what we were listening to back when we were growing up.” While previous efforts, 2006’s raw debut A Far Cry from Freedom and 2009’s tight follow-up One Town Away, enforced the band’s early persona as torchbearers to Steve Earle and Reckless Kelly, Sirens takes inspiration from Springsteen epics and jittery R.E.M. stompers. Lowery also left his imprint on the band, especially when he’s trading verses with Wilson on the quirky alt-country punk of “Life in Shambles.”

The surprise of the album is the seven-and-a-half-minute “Turn It Up,” which ascends into a lengthy arena rock jam, led by the explosive guitar work of James’ brother Sam Wilson.

“We all just felt inspired to keep the jam going,” James Wilson explains further. “It was one of those late nights in the studio. We let Sam rip and did it in one take. It’s the kind of thing we’re apt to do live but had never made its way on to a record.”

By now, Sons of Bill’s back-story is well known. Local natives James, Sam and keyboardist Abe Wilson grew up learning about music from their father, UVA professor Bill Wilson. In 2006 they formed the band, which is rounded out by Seth Green on bass and Todd Wellons on drums. Since breaking out, they’ve remained a favorite on the local music scene, and toured relentlessly on the national circuit.

Sons of Bill
Virginia Calling Tour
March 20-25

Increased time on the road has meant growing crowds at the band’s energetic live shows. In fact, to make Sirens, the band raised just shy of $44,000 from a Kickstarter campaign. As a big thank you gesture, the group is embarking on a run of free shows dubbed the Virginia Calling tour. Visiting six different cities across the Commonwealth, the tour starts with an intimate acoustic show at the Mockingbird Roots Music Hall in Staunton. Things will be louder on Thursday when the band hits the stint’s biggest venue at the Paramount on the Downtown Mall.

“Our fans gave us more money than most record labels give bands,” Wilson said. “This felt like the right way to give back.”