It should come as no surprise that the third album from Charlottesville rock band Sons of Bill, "Sirens," begins with a clip from William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
After all, brothers Abe, James and Sam Wilson are the Sons of Bill: William Wilson, a Faulkner expert who teaches Southern literature and theology at the University of Virginia.
Faulkner's speech contemplated the artist's role living in a world with the shadow of nuclear annihilation. Similarly, for the Wilson brothers, "Sirens" is about finding a reason for rocking in post-9/11 America.
"You have to find it within yourself, the meaning and importance of what you do," James Wilson says. "Rock 'n' roll can feel like a siren, this dream calling you off course from what you should be doing, but there's also a real importance in what you do."
But for all its thoughtfulness, "Sirens" isn't a pretentious mood album. It's a loving homage to great 1980s and early-'90s Top 40 rock albums by artists such as R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
"Those are the bands we admire and the music that we love," Wilson says, bands that made "something timeless. ... We really want to make a record to last. I want to make a record that people would want to cover in 10 years. There are people that are desperate and hungry for bands like that again and we're trying to take up the tradition of the great American rock bands that we all loved."
Fans can hear the new album performed live at Capital Ale House on March 24 as part of Sons of Bill's free "Virginia Calling" small tour, named for the folk-influenced ballad that closes "Sirens." The tour thanks Virginia fans, many of whom paid for the production of "Sirens" through Kickstarter. The band's national tour launches March 28, sharing some Florida dates with Dave Matthews Band guitarist Tim Reynolds.
"Virginia Calling" is a spiritual homecoming, the band's stab at crafting a happy ending. "Springsteen makes it look easy, but hopeful rock 'n' roll is about the hardest thing to write ever," Wilson says. "Some people listen to the record and think it's disaffected or frustrated or desperate, but I really think it's a hopeful record." S
Sons of Bill perform a free show at Capital Ale House, 623 E. Main St., March 24 at 10 p.m. For information, go to capitalalehouse.com.