Western Albemarle’s own Sons of Bill will release their second album, “One Town Away,” at a special CD release party at the Paramount Theatre in Charlottesville at 7 p.m. Friday, June 19. Jim Waive and the Young Divorcees will be opening.
Lead vocalist and guitar player James Wilson says that the Sons of Bill, four out of five of whom are graduates of Western Albemarle High School, still considers western Albemarle “much more of its home base than Charlottesville.”
Back at WAHS, oldest brother Sam Wilson was in a heavy metal band, Catharsis. A few years behind him, James played bass in the Free Union Farm Boys, a bluegrass band that played regularly at Mountain View Grill (a previous incarnation of the forthcoming Mudhouse location) in downtown Crozet. In those days, bass player Seth Green’s band, Staggering Hayfields, competed against James and the Farm boys for fans and the two friends were rivals in Western’s Battle of the Bands. A few years later, when James made the switch to guitar during college, and shortly after founded the Sons of Bill with brothers Sam and Abe, James knew he wanted Seth on bass. Brian Caputo, Sam’s longtime friend, joined them two years ago on the drums.
“Sons of Bill has grown in a really grassroots way,” James explained. “Because we are straddling genres, one toe in country and one toe in rock, we were making our own way. We had to grow in a word of mouth way.” It wasn’t long before the band signed with Red Light Management, the Charlottesville firm that handles the Dave Matthews Band and the Decemberists, among others.
In addition to its loyal local fan base, sharing stages with the likes of Robert Earl Keen and Jason Isbell helped shape the band during its first couple of years. Now the Sons of Bill, who played at the first Crozet Music Festival in 2007, is playing at the renown Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, on June 14. Later this fall they will perform at the prestigious Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas October 2.
In creating “One Town Away,” the Sons of Bill not only started their own record label, Grey Fox Records, but also had the opportunity to work with legendary producer Jim Scott while recording the album in California in November. Scott, who has engineered albums for Wilco, Tom Petty, and the Dixie Chicks, to name a few, was the band’s first choice. Committed to staying away from the big labels, the band landed Scott by saving up their pennies from frat parties and sending him demos from across the country.
As James describes it, the band’s second album is “more mature—just because we are.” James wrote most of his songs on their first album, “A Far Cry from Freedom” (2006) at 21. Most of his work on “One Town Away” was written at age 24.
“It’s a more reflective album, but still in the same spirit of the first. Each song stands alone,” James said.
“One Town Away”’s title track, written by Sam, is a tribute to the late folk/country musician Townes Van Zandt, who, as James described him, is “one guy we can listen to over and over again in the van. His spirit haunts the album.”
As for the release party, James is hoping all of Crozet’s Sons of Bill fans will make it “one town away” to join them before they hit the road again.
“It is an amazing space to be playing in, on such a historical stage.” This is the theatre where the eponymous Bill Wilson himself used to see movies growing up. The performance, which is starting earlier than many of their other shows, and at the family-friendly Paramount, will be fun for Sons of Bill fans of all ages.