A Little Goes a Long Way, the debut EP from the Castellows, is this week’s Album of the Week. The three sisters from Nashville, by way of Georgetown, GA, seem poised to take their place alongside the likes of Lainey Wilson, Megan Moroney, and Hailey Whitters at the forefront of a female-led youth movement in country music.
Lily, Ellie, and Powell Balkcom grew up on a family cattle farm and began singing and playing together at church events in their teens. As they improved their musicianship, they eventually left Georgetown for Nashville, where they began to attract an online following by releasing covers. The band's name comes from their great-grandmother – her maiden name.
Three sisters (two of whom are part of triplets), playing guitars and singing country harmonies will put some people in mind of the early Chicks, and to be sure, there is a lot of Chicks in their first release. But there is even more Band Perry – before that family act's disastrous move to Interscope, which eventually led to their current hiatus. If you loved The Band Perry’s self-titled debut back in 2010, the Castellows’ debut may be the album you have been waiting for all these years.
The Castellows are poised to have a huge 2024
Nowhere is that more apparent than on “The Part Where You Break My Heart,” which begins with lead singer Lily Balkcom’s sultry memories of a misplaced love before bursting out on the chorus with guitar and banjo and her sister’s voices. Both thematically and musically, this is a cousin of the song that opened that first Band Perry album, “You Lie.”
The first single released from the EP, “No. 7 Road,” underpinned by Powell Balkcom’s nimble banjo, is a lovely memory of their hometown, very much in the vein of Lainey Wilson’s “Those Boots.” And the title track, which opens the EP, does sound a lot like early Chicks.
But the Balkcom sisters (lead guitarist Ellie is the third sibling) aren’t merely mimicking other bands. The final track, “I Know it Will Never End,” and “Heartline Hill” are great cowboy rockers that blend Ellie’s electric guitar with Powell’s banjo. “Cowboy Kind of Love” is a sweet love song that shows off Lily’s more delicate vocals.
But Lily can also bring a lot more to a song, as she does on “Hurricane,” which the Castellows released as a single last Fall. It is the only track on the EP that they did not write (occasionally with help from songwriting stalwarts like Natalie Hemby and Hillary Lindsey.) “Hurricane” was written by Keith Stegall, Stewart Harris, and Thom Schuyler forty-plus years ago about nature’s repeated attempts to wipe New Orleans off the map. Levon Helm recorded the first version on his solo album American Son, in 1980. A year later, Leon Everette scored his biggest hit with his own version.
Helm’s take is straightforward and rather tame. Everette reaches the mystical interplay between earth and water and people a little better. But The Balkcom sisters put their elders to shame with their utterly haunting, bewitching rendering. Lily’s vocals are hypnotic, and the music and the momentum build to crashing crescendos. It is one of the best songs you will hear this year.
The Castellows are currently touring throughout the south before heading up into the Mideast in March. I don’t believe New Orleans is currently on their agenda, but you could hear them in Shreveport or Houston come April, a little bit before hurricane season. I’m hoping to catch them on day two of the Boston Calling Festival in May, on the bill headlined by Tyler Childers.
So, in a week that saw Super Bowl headliner Usher release his first new solo album in eight years and some strong new efforts from alt-rockers the likes of the Strumbellas and Declan McKenna, the Castellows have the best new album of the week.