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February 2024
Vol. 23, No. 5
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CD Reviews

BARRY HILL: 74

by Sandé LollisFebruary 2024

I’m just going to say right off the bat that I love this album. What immediately strikes me is how easy it is to listen to. Barry’s voice feels familiar and comfortable, almost conversational, and makes me wait in anticipation to hear what he has to say next. There are no sharp edges or overdone instrument solos or explicit lyrics; it flows effortlessly to and through my ears and lands solidly in the right place. Everyone shines and it is full of energy, spunk, and purpose. I am especially taken by the backing vocals throughout the project. Sven-Erik Seaholm, who recorded and produced the album, sings beautifully crafted multi-track harmonies. His choices and the mix are lush and warm, and every listen astounds me and fills me up.

“This is My Day” is a great opener, perky and upbeat, with drums, bass, and piano shuffling at a fast pace, generating forward motion like a train across the desert. I feel the steam rising with the swell of harmonies at :11. The lyrics look at life’s experiences, good and bad, through a positive lens and an intentional acceptance that the day is beautiful and that he owns it, but he also recognizes that each of us do. “This day’s coming up in a beautiful way. It’s a wonderful world, people say. This is my day. It’s your day too.” The chorus is a lively chant of “who who whos” that firmly drives that engine and inspires me to sing along. Who wouldn’t?

Sounding youthful yet haunting, George Madrid lets loose on pedal steel with an extended intro on “Hometown Angel,” backed by Barry on guitar. At :25, Barry sings, “Playing in Balboa Park, Tuesday afternoon, trying out a brand new song about you. She sat down for a while, not much older than a child, and I asked, ‘What are you doin’ here?’” Knowing that he does some busking in Balboa Park leads me to suspect this is, at least, based on personal experience. He paints a clear and vivid picture of the young wayfarer and I feel the angst between them both. The chorus begins at 1:17, as Barry cautions, “Be careful out there, my lost angel, after that sun goes down…” while his son Matthew sings the most beautiful blood harmony. It is fresh and crisp and raw and heartfelt, and it flutters my heart to hear it. Pedal steel plays between each chorus and verse; it becomes part of the story and enhances the adventure and the melancholy.

At 5:48 minutes, “Christine” is the longest on the album. Solo drums begin it, soon to be joined by guitar and organ; they all groove in a Classics IV “Spooky-esque” vibe for a good 48 seconds, until Barry sings, “Christine, my one true thing. You’re the pertiest girl, you know, I think that I have ever seen.” There is something like a dark night to this song, a fireplace, low light, and a prolonged sensuality in the constant rhythm and single tremolo notes of the organ. Backing vocals show up and increase the tension, while all the words rhyming with Christine are long and drawn out, a low whine resting somewhere between pleasure and pain. Finally, it breaks open with an organ solo by Sue Delguidice at 3:26. In a flurry of motion, she is a slightly mischievous yet insistent force and clearly in control for a full 30 seconds. Barry comes back with another verse and chorus, then the song fades as though engulfed by the night.

Seaholm on bass starts off “Don’t Say a Word,” doing a nice tripping-along kind of run that catches and holds my attention. Supported by guitar and drums, the arrangement is energetic and deceptively bright as Hill sings, “Grey day, cold morning, got up on the wrong side of the bed. The house is deadly quiet, things just need to be said.” He paints the picture of a disheveled house on the morning after heated words. Seaholm adds hand claps to the chorus. Again, it’s deceptive; are they claps or slaps? “Don’t say a word about this day, don’t say that you’ll be coming around.” One thing is sure though, although it’s happened before, Hill is now resolute in knowing that he is done with the relationship. “I love you but I can’t back down. I can’t back down.” This song is a declaration in opposites. The melody is simple and moaning, while in contrast the instruments display a determined liveliness throughout the whole song. That could be the underlying decisiveness of Hill’s strength of will, his readiness to move on, “Never back down.”

Clocking in at 38 minutes, the album’s nine songs were written by Hill. Players not yet named are Chad Allbritton on bass and Peter Williams on drums. Ayrton Pisco plays violin on “You Know I Love You,” and Sven-Erik Seaholm plays harmonium on the old-world sounding “Silver Bracelets.” The remaining songs are “One True Love,” “Pretty Scars,” and “Sacred Space.” The project is well-rounded and definitely worth your time. Go listen again and again.

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