The story of Sons of Bill’s “Road to Canaan” starts far from their home base of Charlottesville, Virginia. Sam Wilson — one of three brothers in the band — says the idea came about while he was visiting his wife in Iraq, where she is a professor at the American University in Sulaimani.
“She had gotten me a guitar on loan, but it was like playing barbed wire. It had such terrible action and such dead strings, I had to put it in Open C tuning just to make it sound like something,” he tells CMT Edge.
Writing together, the couple came up with the narrative that ultimately became “Road to Canaan.” But rather than immediately setting their story in the Middle East, Wilson and his wife evoked the eerie quiet of Nebraska when everyone else is fast asleep.
“We were thinking about the constant coming and going in our lives,” Wilson says. “As a touring musician, some of the longest nights for me have been driving the wheat and corn fields of the Midwest in the middle of the night. There’s beauty there and darkness, too. There’s longing coupled with the anticipation of the return.”
The emotional song is a highlight of Love & Logic, was produced by Ken Coomer of Wilco and slated for release on Sept. 30. In addition, Leah Blevins lends her vocals to “Road to Canaan,” giving another dimension to the song.
“My wife and I wrote the song as if we were talking to each other — across all that distance,” Wilson says. “Leah appears on the song as almost a dual-lead vocalist to represent that conversation. Her voice is beautiful but broken in all the right ways. We had never met her until the day she came in to record. Ken had brought up the idea of getting a female singer in, and Leah was his first choice. She came in, and within one hour of hearing the song, we had a completed track.”
The song’s winding journey is now leading to Nashville, where the band will play an official showcase at the Americana Music Festival on Friday night (Sept. 19). Asked what listeners can expect from the band’s live show, Wilson replied, “Dynamic. We’re not afraid to bring things down to a whisper or to have all five of us playing at 11. Every show, we play like it’s our last and put every ounce of heart into it. You’ll leave feeling like you attended a true rock show.”
Listen to the CMT Edge premiere of Sons of Bills’ “Road to Canaan.”