Pressmen’s Home to have outdoor concert May 22

An outdoor COVID-19 friendly concert will be held May 22 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Castle Barn, located at 908 Pressmen’s Home Road in Rogersville featuring Bill and the Belles.

The barn is located on the campus of the former Camelot Golf Course in the Pressmen’s Home community of Hawkins County.

Bill and the Belles have released their new critically-acclaimed “Happy Again” which was recently featured in Rolling Stone magazine.

“Happy Again” isn’t exactly happy. But the delightfully deadpan new album from roots mainstays Bill and the Belles is full of life, humor, and tongue-in-cheek explorations of love and loss. To be released May 21, on Ditty Boom Records (with distribution and promotion by Free Dirt Service Co.), “Happy Again” marks a new chapter for the group by featuring 11 all-original songs penned by founding member Kris Truelsen.

There’s no dancing around it: this album is about his divorce. But the group has a knack for saying sad things with a bit of an ironic smirk, pairing painful topics with a sense of release and relief. Anyone who’s been to one of their shows can attest that you leave feeling lighter and refreshed. The band often jokes that their set lists appear mournful and angry, but if you don’t listen to the words, you wouldn’t know it.

“One of the darkest times of my life turned out to be one of the most creative,” Truelsen said. “I realized, ‘My life is chaos. I need to write about this.’”

This personal loss turned out to be a creative boon for the band. Many of the songs were cranked out in just a few months, two were even written the night before they were recorded. This raw song craft, along with the deft production touch of Teddy Thompson, son of Linda and Richard Thompson, who encouraged using only first or second takes, gives “Happy Again” an emotional punch that deepens with each listen.

The core of “Happy Again” is the foundational Bill and the Belles quartet sound featuring Truelsen on guitar, fiddler Kalia Yeagle, bassist Andrew Small, and banjo/banjo-uke player Helena Hunt, recently replaced by Aidan VanSuetendael. The album is also gently supported by Nick Falk on electric guitar and percussion and Don Eanes on piano and B3 Hammond. Early fans of the band were hooked by their singing, and Happy Again continues to deliver stellar vocal trio arrangements, honed by Yeagle, that nod toward groups like the Ronettes and The Shangri-Las.

The band began as a project to explore the sounds between rural and urban music, between vaudeville and down home roots, but they’ve arrived somewhere wholly their own. They revel in the in-between: deeply engaged with the string band tradition and eager to stretch those influences to contemporary settings. Happy Again is the latest chapter of that ongoing story: what happens when a string band from East Tennessee lays down a session at Motown. It’s a welcome evolution that feels familiar and timeless.

With all their tongue-in-cheek quips, you’d think Bill and the Belles avoids the tough stuff, however, that’s far from the truth. “Never Be Happy Again” is a laundry list of existential woes, and “People Gonna Talk’’ profiles some of the frustrations of small-town living. “Make It Look Easy” is an anthem for apathy. And of course there’s “Sobbin’ the Blues,” Truelsen’s homage to the ‘talking blues’ numbers of the past, neatly tied up with a moral-of-the-story twist.

Also appearing are special guests Clay Parker and Jodi James from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The opening act is Ten Penny Drive, a local winner of a recent competition.

There is a suggested admission price of $10. Be sure to bring a lawn chair or blanket.