Running off the rails with Unwieldies


It almost sounds as if it’s been turned into a lullaby, this heavy metal blood boiler that’s been blared at sporting events for decades now when it’s time to get the home crowd to raise its voices and beers alike.

The song in question is “Crazy Train,” that timeless rager that makes air guitar practically reflexive and which is as much of an Ozzy Osbourne signature as urine stains on historical landmarks.

But when Danielle Bell sings it, it becomes something else — or, perhaps more accurately, it becomes its true self. Despite its in-your-face sonics, the song’s lyrics convey a vulnerability, the uncertainty of a man on the edge, which often gets masked by all that heavy metal thunder.

To hear Bell give lilting, enchanted voice to “Crazy Train,” though, is to feel the full gravity of what Osbourne was saying as he tried not to come apart at the seams.

Bell’s version is one of the highlights of “Let’s Grow Old And Strange Together,” the debut album from The Unwieldies, a newish trio that also features her husband Rob Bell, who fronts rockers The Psyatics and the Yeller Bellies, and violinist/guitarist Jack Ball, who also plays in The Psyatics.

The Bells have played together informally for years, though each focused on his or her own bands, with Danielle making the rounds in various casino lounges with the likes of Phoenix and Jimmy Hopper. She also works as a program director for a local church, and once led a discussion group for which she and Rob played spare, stripped-down versions of various well-known songs to cast them in a different light and reflect on their true meaning.

Hence, their version of “Crazy Train” was born, and in a roundabout way The Unwieldies would follow. It’s a fresh musical outlet for all of them, their songs mostly acoustic-based, with Danielle and Rob occasionally dueting on folk-leaning tunes that alternately haunt and sweet talk, with the classically trained Ball, who once performed with the Pittsburgh Philharmonic, adding gorgeous melodic accompaniment.

For Danielle, it’s all been a way to get in touch with a voice of her own.

“I had been doing cover songs and what I’d call ‘yelling in pitch’ for many years in lounges and singing heavy duty rock songs,” she says over coffee at The Beat recently. “Doing other people’s music, you kind of end up sounding like whatever you’re singing. This is a completely new experience for me, having my own identity as a singer and writer.”

It’s been a long time coming — and you could say the same thing for The Unwieldies themselves.

“It’s become a reality after we just talked about it for 16 years and never did anything because we had plenty of other projects going on,” Rob says of playing in a band with his wife. “It’s about time.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.