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LeRoy Bell Steps Front and Center

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 15:27
LeRoy Bell, a veteran musician, will lead a band featuring G.E. Smith and Simon Kirke on Wednesday at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett.
Susan Harris

Something of a supergroup will assemble on the stage at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Wednesday at 8 p.m. At its center will be the singer and songwriter LeRoy Bell. To one side will be the guitarist G.E. Smith, who lives in the hamlet. Behind him, the drummer Simon Kirke, a founding member of Free and Bad Company, who has a house in Montauk. And on bass, Terry Morgan of LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends.

The band will perform recently recorded tracks, a couple of which Mr. Smith played for this reporter last week. They included a driving, up-tempo rendition of the traditional folk ballad “Black Is the Color (of My True Love’s Hair)” and “America,” a bluesy, simmering, almost seething lament for the nation in 2019 (“God only knows how I miss those days / She only knows how I miss the way we were, America”). An album is due in the winter or spring, and Mr. Bell and Mr. Smith plan to continue working together.

Though he may be best known as a finalist in the first season of America’s version of “The X Factor,” Mr. Bell has a long and successful musical history. With bandmate and friend Casey James, he formed a duo and songwriting partnership, writing charting songs for Elton John. He has also written for Teddy Pendergrass, the Temptations, the O’Jays, and Rita Marley. 

“I’ve been looking for a singer for 30 years,” Mr. Smith said last week, explaining that his wife, Taylor Barton, who is also a recording artist, brought Mr. Bell to his attention. “My favorite thing has always been to play behind good singers, people like Daryl Hall, Bob Dylan — I think he’s an amazing singer — Mick Jagger, people like that. It inspires me as a guitarist to be able to do that.”

“He is amazing,” Ms. Barton, who will open the show, agreed of Mr. Bell. The new partnership, she predicted, “is going to be a very big deal for everybody involved. Everybody is a top-flight player. This is really going to be special, and people are going to be so lucky to check this out at the Talkhouse.”

“This,” she said of the new partnership, “is going to be a very exciting, moving, positive direction for G.E. and his new bandmate, LeRoy Bell.”

“He’s just so good, and so good live,” Mr. Smith said. “He writes great songs. It’s rock ’n’ roll — two guitars, bass, and drums — but it’s got this R&B tinge to it that’s just great and melodic. The guy can really sing — wait till you hear him.”

Much of Mr. Bell’s body of work can be streamed online, including the solo albums “Rock ’n’ Soul,” “Traces,” “A Change Is Coming,” and the 2016 EP “When That Fire Rolls Around.” (A single, “America,” released last year, is quite a bit different than the new recording Mr. Smith shared.) As Mr. Smith described, the music is at once catchy, melodic, clever, and infused with a healthy shot of R&B.

Those who did not see him on “The X Factor” may wonder where Mr. Bell has been all this time, though his songs have been radio staples for years. “This gig is just the beginning,” Mr. Smith said. “This really sounds like something.”

Admission is $40 and $60.

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