As a (very) amateur harp player, my initial assessment of a disc is occasionally based on a very visceral "how much I'd like to sound like him." In the case of Bill Hill's debut, the answer was very much indeed. So for the first few spins I simply wallowed in 'harp heaven' - took me several listens to realize just what a great songwriter Mr. Hills is.
Bill Hills has been around; a founding member of Calgary's very first home-grown blues act in the early sixties, he's remained musically active ever since, including a lengthy stint with Johnny V, one of Canada's sadly unsung blues warriors. As he's opted to work locally over the years while raising a family, "Ought To Be A Law" will likely be his introduction to a wider audience. It's a very fine introduction indeed!
Fronting a tough trio - Jimmy Payne on drums, bassist Kevin Christenson, and guitarist Russell Foreman - Bill blasts his way through an all-original playlist that sticks primarily to greasy Chicago-based grooves. But whether it be shuffle or rhumba, slippery funk or bouncy country-inflected riffs, he injects each with more than enough of himself to render them thoroughly original. And he proves an excellent lyricist with a wry outlook and clever wordplay, his fresh take on timeless topics bringing a breath of originality to the thoroughly traditional.
Vocally Bill often sounds uncannily like John Hammond. If anything, though, Bill's less mannered, a little more relaxed, and as a result comes across with more warmth and, to me, greater emotional impact. His harp playing is unfailingly original, with a freewheeling style employing both broadly bent wails and lightning-fast runs. There are better technicians out there, to be sure, but Bill's joyous abandon is amply evident in every note; with the harp way out front in the mix, he puts passion over precision (not to imply he's any slouch, mind), his inventive hooks providing effective support behind the vocals, while his solos blast off into that kind of squalling nirvana that only the little ol' Mississippi Saxophone can achieve.
Mr. Roeman, too, impresses more and more as the disc progresses; not flashy, he seems content to provide impeccable rhythmic support, but occasional solos show him a tasteful lead as well. Guest Pete Matheison joins Bill on the closer, his acoustic guitar complimenting Bill's harmonica on a country blues that wraps things up nicely.
Production is excellent, with a spacious soundscape and a hint of echo that places the band right between the speakers. An excellent outing . . . here's hoping we'll hear much more of Bill Hills!
Contact: Bill Hills, 403-244-0998
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