When a veteran singer/songwriter like Bill Hartwell records a CD of his own music, the best description for the songs is probably “comfortable.” He has sung and played guitar locally in the alt-country Coyote Gulch and is one of those jack-of-all-instruments pros who wrote 12 of the 13 songs on his new CD, The Road I’m On, and played all the instruments on 10 of the tunes. The generous batch of music is a mix of personal folk-rock songs and quirky, funny observational rockers. Throughout, Hartwell’s sure-handed acoustic guitar playing and friendly, warm vocals grab the listener’s attention.
The title tune is one of the autobiographical songs, and the lyrics (on his website) tell the tale: “I was a soul hitchhiker, without a thumb/ I guess that’s how this road became/ The road I’m on.” The song is a touching and soulful look in the mirror. Smooth harmonies and excellent finger picking – he excels at this throughout the disc – sets the mood just right. “Money Makes the Monkey Dance” is a rocker with electric guitar by Ken Gill, about when Hartwell was a kid watching an organ grinder’s monkey – and how as an adult watching our politicians is so similar. This one is smart and catchy. “One of the Lucky Ones” is a slow one, with a lesson: first, Hartwell sings as a rich man about having great material wealth, but no time for friends or family. In verse two, the poorer, but real lucky one sings: “He has to scrape by every payday but doesn’t care, because the real payoff is in love for those he cares for.” Hartwell’s delivery brings it home with a great hook, smooth as silk.
Gill is back on “Never Too Far From the Wild,” about a city couple trapped in a doomed relationship. The song surges with energy and gusto, with echo effects, tasty guitar licks, and sharp lyrics: “Adrenaline rush of risk and reward/ Where the only sin is being bored.” Another winning rocker is the quirky “Don’t Blame It on Me,” one of those alt-country boogies that pulls in a litany of humorous lines from the news, this time about the sad state of the world, “Blame it on the CO2 we’re pumping in the air/ Blame it on the apathetic… They won’t care.” Hartwell again makes a strong impression with the personal folk song “Memories of You,” a quiet and dignified testimony to a longtime lover. The disc closes with “Trains I’ve Missed,” the only cover, by Walt Wilkins. Accompanied only by his finger-picked guitar and three-part harmonies, it is a beautiful piece of country-folk music. Like the other songs here, it is pristinely performed, recorded, and conveys a comfortable, professional vibe.
Listening to Bill Hartwell’s The Road I’m On, the listener get to travel that road with him for a while, and it is an enjoyable trip.