6BN-Hill Vol.3

28 February 2016
Written by Phil Brisse

Steve Hill Launches Solo Recordings: Vol. 3

Photo by Scott Doubt
Steve Hill's guitar "pusher" offered to sell him a guitar: a Gibson ES225. He wanted it but he didn't have the money for it, so they worked out a trade. A solo show in Drummondville in exchange for the guitar. It was three weeks before the release of his sixth album, Whiplash Love, but he felt he had bottomed out professionally, because though he knew it was a good album, the record label wasn't getting behind it. The album wasn't going to go anywhere. There were no gigs booked.
So he called his agent, gave him a list of clubs to call, and asked him to book him some more solo shows. After all, the Drummondville show had gone well, he had had fun playing it, and the fans seemed to dig it. He pressed 500 copies of Alone, Hungry, and Mean; ten solo tunes on CD that he could sell after the shows to make a couple of extra bucks. A revamped version of Alone evolved into the 2012 release of the newly baptized Solo Recordings: Volume 1. Little did Hill know five years ago that the Gibson guitar deal would be the genesis of a major change in the course of his career...
Steve Hill sang "...the guitar, the amps, the left foot, the right foot, the voice, equals the band..." on Solo Recordings: Volume 1 in The Ballad of Johnny Wabo. The song was his story: the break away from touring with a band to favour the solo act approach. He lamented the state of the live music industry. The economics of touring with a band just didn't always make sense. Make some money, lose some money. A stripped down solo show could get you into smaller rooms, and club owners could afford smaller entourages, and you could play more often. It was economic survival in the new music world order. There was an audience, of both spectators and club owners, for this format. Now he just had to fill out his sound. Enter a bass drum, a snare, a hi-hat, and guitar modifications which included an additional pickup to accentuate the bass notes and a drumstick attached to the headstock to hit the cymbals. Volume 2 saw the introduction of the harmonica that he adopted and practiced while driving between gigs. Indeed, the guitar, the amps, the left foot, the right foot, the voice now did equal the sound of a full band.
To say that this switch has paid off would be an understatement. It has blossomed into 7 Maple Blues Awards in the past two years, and the release of Solo Recordings: Volume 2, in March 2014, which garnered a Juno Award last year. The recognition afforded by the numerous awards he has picked up, coupled with his willingness to travel tens of thousand of miles each year on the road criss-crossing the country to play coast-to-coast has paid off. Hill is one of the busiest blues musicians in the country. 

This week marks the release of Solo Recordings: Volume 3. Another twelve tracks to add to the live show arsenal, featuring nine original tunes and three covers. Though he had enough material for an all original album he felt that a couple of the songs didn't mesh with the overall blues feel he was going for. He put them aside, but don't despair, those left over songs will no doubt appear on a future project. Hill 
explained that at the end of one of the studio sessions, he told the engineer to keep the tape rolling (yes, this was recorded the old fashioned way on 2 inch tape). He ripped into two blues standards popularized by Muddy Waters that have been part of his repertoire since the beginning. The version of Rollin' and Tumblin' you hear on Volume 3 was the first take. And he chose the second take of Rollin' Stone. They're killer. He felt these songs fit into place nicely with the original material, and balanced out the folk and blues rock directions of the originals. The third cover on the album is Going Down That Road Feeling Bad, a traditional american song covered by Woodie Guthrie and the Grateful Dead, among others. This was Steve Hill's tip of the hat, his tribute, to Jerry Garcia, particularly the instrumental intro.
The album opens up with a pair of blues rock songs: Damned and Dangerous. Up next is his crunchy cover of Rollin' Stone. I think of Rhythm All Over as the logical follow up to The Ballad of Johnny Wabo. It strikes me as Steve's self-evaluation progress report on his one man band playing. Listen to the words, you'll see what I mean. Hill's harp playing makes an appearance on Volume 3 on Smoking Hot Machine. It's a smoky, bluesy tale of a conflicted romance ("kisses like punches"), that has a Fats Domino-style waltzy lilt to it that is punctuated by some pretty intense bass drumming footwork. Can't Take It With You has a pretty self-explanatory message, some tasty leads, and a driving backbeat. Rollin' And Tumblin' opens with some Mississippi infused guitar notes that kicks into high gear when the foot stomping drumming kicks in. Walking Grave closes out the album. It starts off slow and heavy, slithering along with a guitar growl throughout. Then the searing guitar lead kicks in along with the hypnotic drum beat before boogying into the last stretch. A fitting finale.
But Volume 3 isn't all about blues rock tunes predicated on carefully distorted guitar rhythms, blistering riffs, and a big drum sound. There are also four folkier style songs. Slowly Slipping Away displays Hill's harp work and has an almost Beatlesque sound that I can't quite put my finger on. Troubled Time also highlights Hill's fingerpicking proficiency on the acoustic guitar. Emily has a summertime feel to it and rounds out the original acoustic songs. The fourth song played on acoustic guitar is Hill's nod to Jerry Garcia with Going Down That Road Feeling Bad.
Hill had promised that Volume 3 would be heavier and more badass than Volume 2 and he delivered, all the while keeping a balance with his acoustic offerings. Solo Recordings: Volume 3 is a worthy addition to your CD library; it's solid from the first track right through to the last. My two favourites at the moment are Dangerous and Rhythm All Over. A note for vinyl fans: the album will be available on vinyl but you'll have to be patient- they're still a couple of months out!  
Expect to see Steve Hill filling out his tour calendar for the rest of 2016 with Canadian dates. A trip over the pond for European shows is in the works for 2017. Stay tuned for all of Steve's show dates on www.stevehillmusic.com.
Photos: Phil Brisse, Julien Faugère (Album Cover)
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