Guitar World Review

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"Loving Arms," the opening track fromWorkingman's Bellfuries (check it out below), starts off like a super-catchy slice of modern, melodic pop—until the glorious 16-second mark. That's when the guitars, stand-up bass and drums enter the sonic picture, and the song gets even catchier.

That's also the moment when everything falls into place, and you realize you're hearing a truly modern, original take on rockabilly. Let's call it rockabilly pop.

The Bellfuries released an undisputed modern-rockabilly masterpiece, Just Plain Lonesome, in 2001. A few years later, they followed it up with Palmyra, a full-on folk-ish rock/pop album that had rockabilly fans scratching their Layrite-coated heads.

This time around, the Bellfuries have steered the ship at least partially back toward roots-rock territory, turning in another winner. Perhaps Static put it best, calling it "contemporary rock-n-roll that’s the cat’s pajamas."

"We’re a rock and roll band," says Joey Simeone, the Texas-based band's vocalist and chief songwriter. "People are obsessed with categories, sub-genres. We check into a hotel, and the guy or girl behind the desk asks what kind of music we play. ‘Rock and roll.’ Then they ask what I mean by that. Well…

"Let’s see. There’s elements of country music, rhythm and blues. There’s some improvisation on stage that I guess you could say is jazz-inspired. Throw in some gospel…plenty of melodies coming out of older pop tunes. That adds up to rock and roll, last time I checked. If we’re not re-inventing the wheel, I’d rather get to work than worry about renaming it.”

There's an undeniable Beatles influence on Workingman's Bellfuries, which is underscored by a rocking new cover of Lennon/McCartney's "She's a Woman." In fact, "Loving Arms" seems—lyrically, at least—to be based on Arthur Alexander's "Soldier of Love," which the Beatles recorded for the BBC in the early Sixties.

Austin Chronicle Review

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While the title references the Grateful Dead, Bellfuries haven't gone hippie-dippy. Rather, it's acknowledgment of the locals' work ethic and their treks between Austin and Chicago to make the LP a reality. The Windy City is home to producer/studio owner Jimmy Sutton, who's made waves producing and playing bass with JD McPherson. The latter recorded the Bellfuries' "Your Love (All That I'm Missing)" on his acclaimed debut Signs & Signifiers, and the two acts share a love of Fifties/Sixties rock & roll. Where McPherson draws from the dark edge of progenitors like Howlin' Wolf and Jerry Lee Lewis, the Bellfuries remain a pop powerhouse reflecting the sweetness of Buddy Holly and early Beatles. The Austin quartet even pulls off a spry version of the Fab Four's "She's a Woman." Lead singer-songwriter Joey Simeone mirrors simpler times with songs like "Loving Arms" and "Under the Light of the Moon." That it's all accomplished with a hint of Smiths melody and R.E.M. jangle allows Workingman's Bellfuries to straddle eras.

Vintage Guitar Magazine Review

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Just as rockabilly back in the ’50s was largely a regional phenomenon, many of the best bands today remain local heroes. Witness Austin’s Bellfuries, with guitar man Mike Molnar.

The band’s debut was the stellar ’01 album Just Plain Lonesome, featuring “Your Love (All That I’m Missing)” – a song that should have been a hit circa 1956, though justice was served when J.D. McPherson covered it on his debut. The Bellfuries followed that with ’08’s pop-infused Palmyra, but it’s been a long seven years since.

The wait’s been worthwhile. This new album is back to fine rockabilly form.

Frontman and songwriter Joey Simeone crafts tunes with a perfect vintage vibe. He has a knack for writing hooks and catchy lyrics while channeling a ’50s sensibility that’s not just aping the past. Bassist Jeff Seaver and drummer Chris Sensat lay down a rock-solid backline.

Throughout, Molnar stuns. His trebly tone drives each song with assured Travis picking and proto rock-and-roll licks.
“Loving Arms” kicks things off with jangly guitar before launching into a fingersnapping rockabilly romp accented by Molnar’s incisive fills and amped-up solo. “Bad Seed Sown” is ’50s witchery with shimmering chordal stabs and a blues-inflected solo.
“Why Do You Haunt Me” is a sweet-sounding teen opera with an oh-so-catchy refrain. “Beaumont Blues” is a bopping rocker while “Baltimore” rides a New Orleans-style rhythm.

The album was recorded by ace Jimmy Sutton at Chicago’s Hi-Style, and the sound is a beautiful mix of old tones and modern clarity.

KUTX (LIVE IN STUDIO 1A)

 

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The Bellfuries’ discography is a wild one, referencing rockabilly, R.E.M.-like jangle-pop, and soul. But if there’s one unifying idea, it’s the band’s understanding of rock ‘n’ roll. Their songs are simple and direct, built on rollicking rhythms and melodic twists that would make Lennon and McCartney proud.

It’s been seven years since their last release, but the new Workingman’s Bellfuries picks up where the band left off. Frontman Joey Simeone has a yelp of a voice that makes sure these songs are fun and addictive. “Bad Seed Sown” smuggles its darkness inside a glowing melody. It’s retro, but timeless. Download a Studio 1A version of the song below.

–Art Levy

Interview with Slug Magazine

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When a band strives to be simultaneously original while still tipping their hat to what came before them, the result can be polarizing. Photo courtesy of The Bellfuries

Joe Simeone started the Bellfuries in 1998 and began playing rockabilly that would widen the perception of what could be accomplished in the genre. The Bellfuries broke ground by incorporating ‘60s pop melodies with R&B rhythms and soul, all pulled together by great playing and Simeone’s rich vocal abilities. While investigating the many areas of their musical palates, the band solidified their lineup as a four-piece and is now ready to take on the world. With a show set for Sept. 27 at the Garage, I had a chance to chat with guitarist Mike Molnar to discuss the road the band is headed down and where they’d like to end up. 

SLUG: Where are you guys at now as a band?
Molnar: The band really functions around our lead singer and songwriter, Joey Simone, who I see as kind of (and I don’t want to imply this as a primary influence), but sort of like an Elvis type character—a great singer and a guy that’s interested in a lot of elements in popular American music, from country and early rock n’ roll to the Beatles. Where we are now as a band I’m pretty excited about. We just picked up a new drummer, Chris Sensat, who’s a real musician’s musician, a great singer, and I think this lineup is going to really gel nicely around Joey’s new material. 

SLUG: With the band treading all over the roots and pop music map, do you guys still think of the band as fitting into the rockabilly genre?
Molnar: Nowadays, there are so many terms out there, and I would sometimes prefer that people draw their own conclusions. The best answer I could give you is that we’re interested in a crossroads where a lot of great American music intersects. It’s easier to look at it as a singer-songwriter setup, but as a cohesive unit instead of bunch of hired guns. As far as rockabilly, I understand why, because of our instrumentation with the upright bass, people immediately think rockabilly—and that’s definitely there—but its only one piece of what we do, from soul and R&B to pop stuff, so roots music is always a safe term. I think of rockabilly the same as blues and country—its all as different American folk music. 

SLUG: Do you think that there’s a certain personality that digs retro music?
Molnar: There’s a pop culture element to music where, if you listen to country, you probably drive a pick-up truck and wear a cowboy hat, but that’s changing because of the Internet and all these music-sharing applications, to where everything is available. So you have people that are into a lot of different stuff and just getting stuff piecemealed from a friend or whoever, but there’s always diehard music fans out there that fill their houses with records, and I guess that’s kind of a personality type. 

SLUG: It’s been a while since you’ve released a record. Will we see new material soon?
Molnar: We’ve got all kinds of material sitting around that we want to get to, but we’ve been touring pretty relentlessly. Then we had coordinated a re-release of the first album, because when we went overseas, we found out that it was being bootlegged to an insane degree. The album was out of print and in Britain, people were walking up to us with new copies that we knew weren’t from us. We wanted to get that back out there and make it worth everyone’s while, so we loaded it up with extra tracks, but a new record is forthcoming. 

SLUG: Do you think that roots music is on the rise, and where do you think the Bellfuries can fit in there?
Molnar: You know, it’s funny because you never know what people are going to connect into. Like the White Stripes: very talented, but it’s very direct and not miles away from what you might see someone playing in their garage, but they were able to become superstars, essentially. At the end of the day, it so direct you don’t have to think to yourself, “Do I like this?” And I think that’s the strength of roots music: it’ll affect you right away. I don’t think that we’ll be this huge media storm, but we can go out and win people over every night we play, and build a successful following from that. 

When a band strives to be simultaneously original while still tipping their hat to what came before them, the result can be polarizing. But when people who treat songwriting and melody like religion do it, then the result is simply tremendous. Where the Bellfuries want to take me musically, I’ll go. When they play at the Garage on September 27, I will certainly go, as should you.