When you consider the fervent scramble at the bleeding edge of music making, it's remarkable just how often the head can still be turned by simple song-craft done well. Little more than a tender vocal and some ambling chords and often one can be hooked. Enter Colorado native and Nashville resident Winston Yellen, who goes by the stage-name Night Beds.
Sometimes minimal to the point of a cappella, sometimes indulging his tales of torment with a flash of reverb, his promising debut LP Country Sleep really sounds as authentic as it should coming from a man recently job- and girlfriendless and, fresh from moving out of his car, living under the roof of a house in the woods previously owned by a certain Johnny Cash and June Carter.
Country checklist complete, Yellen needs and has a weapon to fight his way out of MOR singer-songwriting territory. Too young for the ravages of smoke and rye to have taken their toll, he possesses instead a striking kinda-falsetto that opens the album entirely unaccompanied, developing into a creaky howl by the closing bars of "Faithful Heights". This is not to say that that from time to time he doesn't let the music do the talking - not at all - it's just that he possesses that intrinsic skill to know when to let pregnant silence rule.
As such, there's a rampant fragility to the majority of his work. "Lost Springs" and "Was I For You?" are full of the sort of alt, rain-down-the-window pining popular with Twilight soundtracks. The closer, "Tenn", is dangerously sad stuff in which to bury your face in the nearest pillow - Yellen's explosion of emotion with 90 seconds to go burning with anger, hate, optimism and love. There will be those for whom this track will truly offer catharsis in their time of need, clinging to Yellen's choice words until they break - double inference intended.
Just as Justin Vernon didn't dedicate all of For Emma to crying self-pity though, neither does Yellen here - his surprising "Wanted You In August" and its smoky bass and sax a product of late-night arrangement and latter-day Bon Iver exploits. It's far from unwelcome also, just as the nodding country and twanging pedal steel of "Borrowed Time" is a lovely contribution, reminiscent of the homely goodness of people like M Ward.
Yellen has a knack for sparkling song-writing too. Ryan Adams, for example, might like to keep an eye on the rear-view mirror upon hearing the sweeping but understated majesty of "Cherry Blossoms" - a track that remains less Heartbreaker and more heartbroken all the same. The free-flowing single, "Ramona", even rounds out this sound into the work of a full band - string accompaniment and all.
Though resolutely stamped with the work of others, Yellen's pain and talent are entirely his own. Time will tell if the empowering inspiration of misery has produced a one-off, or if we're on the cusp of welcoming a mainstay to the genre. Either way, Country Sleep will be held as an impressive opening statement, one likely to weather the fluctuating tastes of the modern age.
The inevitable comparison with Fleet foxes and Justin Vernon's Bon Iver will arise, when you first listen to this debut album by Night beds. From the opening a capella 'Faithful Heights' number with its sweeping, somewhat beseeching voice of Winston Yellen, and the segue into Ramona, a fast orchestrated number, featuring slide guitar and ending with violins, then back to THAT voice again on 'Even if we try' Winston Yellen's voice draws you into his (?) sadness yearning and lonliness.
The album is a fine balance of musicality and voice, and Night Beds (really Winston Yellen, who is the voice and song writer) has a voice that is nuanced and highly expressive, soft and emotive,which his song writing compliments. 'Cherry Blossoms' shows the full range of this remarkable voice and the last track TENN show cases his poetic writing too.
Yellen hails from Nashville, and with sliding guitar and lost love featuring strongly, the sound is country but with a baroque edge, with its strings as well as guitars. The back story to the making of this album features Yellen heading off to the woods to stay in a wooden cabin once owned by Johnny Cash, a familiar route, it would seem for budding young musicians (see Bon Iver and also James Vincent McMorrow).
This is a fine album and it would be surprising if Night Beds were not playing in larger venues when they come to the UK at the end of this year, then is planned at present (see tour dates on their website page www.nightbeds.org)
Also check them out on youtube where they feature on The Lawrence school.
Night Beds are essentially Colorado singer Winston Yellon a 23 year old musician blessed with embarrassingly high levels of talent. Those of you who saw the wonderful Sharon Van Etten in London at her Shepherds Bush gig a while back may have stumbled upon him as a support act. His debut album "Country Sleep" was allegedly recorded in a 10 month period during which he rented a house outside Nashville, formerly owned by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. If the ghost of the Man in black was present then he would have approved since one thing is for sure that this lovely, warm and wistful album with echoes of Jeff Buckley, Bon Iver, Robin Pecknold and Jim James will propel Mr Yellon to headline slots in the blink of an eye. While there there is nothing outstandingly original here what Yellon does is to take the gorgeous strains of his sumptuous voice and infuse a set of ten songs with plaintive melancholy and aching beauty. It is often an intoxicating mix which does echo that sad compelling vibe and poignant atmosphere that Bon Iver struck on his sublime debut "For Emma, Forever Ago". Yellon however is no mere log cabin marooned copyist. "Country Sleeps" is packed with songs which shows heightened maturity and a ear for a good tune.
Thus you have the lovely pop of "Ramona" which skips along at a nice pace and has you singing at the top of your voice in a matter of seconds. Even better is the haunting a capella ring of "Even if we try" a song so destined to be a classic that Paddy Power should stop taking bets. It tugs at your heart and reminds you to buy that Valentine card for the one you love. The song "22" is a rustic, rolling, song with echoes of the Fleet Foxes but with the sweeter infusion of Yellon's soft vocals. The almost choir sounding commencement to the lament that is "Borrowed Time" betrays a much jauntier song which gently evolves into a subtle and nicely paced piece of alt country. Finally the double punch of "Lost Springs" and the short but sad "Was I for you" amount to a dual standout. If there is a criticism perhaps the debt to Ryan Adams circa Love is Hell on "Cherry Blossoms" is somewhat over cooked but who can dispute that it is a beautiful song?
If you want a sneak preview of the works of Winston Yellon head over to the the blog of Heather Browne herself a Colorado resident. On her "I am fuel you are friends" music site there is a Chapel Session from Yellon where amongst other songs he does one of the best covers of the heartbreaking "Everything trying" from the pen of the godlike genius that is Seattle songwriter Damien Jurado. As a debut "County Sleeps" is prime real estate and the start of something special. Whether Winston Yellon keeps the slightly odd Night Beds moniker over times remains to be seen, but he has put down a large marker with this record and it begs the question once posed by Neil Young "are you ready for the country"?
Beautiful tunes superbly sung and performed - every single track can stand to be played alone but the album has a consistent thematic flow and for me is one of the finest debuts of all time, this guy is a major talent - cannot wait to see him live in April.
Night Beds is the project of Colorado born, young Winston Yellen who brings us his own brand of Indi/Folk. "Country Sleep is a highly impressive debut recording by the 23 year old and one born of the pain of loss, loss of a loved one and loss of a job. Their loss is our gain! as Winston delivers a set of songs in his lovely falsetto tones accompanied by beautifully, for the most part, understated acoustic guitar and strings.
Came across this via NPR on YouTube. Really charismatic performer who would be great to watch live. My only gripe is the track "Ramona" does not use such a loud drum track on live performances and is much better without it.
I listen to loads of music, and all kinds of music... this is one of my favourite records of the year. Sounds so deep and sweet on heavy vinyl too... highly, recommended you drop a few extra quid and grab the LP And hey, it also comes with download code so two birds with one click!)