Titling this album Solo Recordings: Volume 3 may be a bit prosaic, but Steve Hill isn’t kidding. Even in the studio, Hill likes to record as a live one-man band. Which seems like an unnecessary constraint to me – why make life difficult for yourself? But regardless of his approach, he manages to produce material of considerable variety and quality across this outing.
Hill sets out his stall in convincing fashion with ‘Damned’, a stomp reminiscent of early Black Keys, with fuzzy, scratchy guitar that hits the mark. He continues in a similar vein with
‘Dangerous’, which a features a great riff crashing around a more soulful vocal
of Paul Rodgers-ish depth. There’s a bit too much of a splashing cymbal sound
in evidence, but that quibble aside it’s a cracker.
|Steve Hill - ain't nobody else there|
Hill doesn’t stick to the multi-instrumental template throughout though. He introduces a lighter mood with the likes of ‘Slowly Slipping Away’ and ‘Troubled Times’, both of which feature twinkling, tasteful, Jimmy Page-goes-Bert Jansch acoustic guitar picking. Hill adds harp to the mix on the former, along with vocals in a slightly higher register, producing a more relaxed vibe over a laid-back beat. ‘Troubled Times, meanwhile, is a more reflective, shimmering piece, with plenty of variety in the guitar work to create a really interesting, excellent tune.
He takes it easy on ‘Emily’ too, with some fun acoustic strumming over a bouncing beat, imbued with summer sun and romantic hope. ‘Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, meanwhile, is a ripping and light acoustic number that manages to meld a gospel feel with a chilled vibe, vaguely recalling fellow Canuck Matt Andersen.
There are still some heavier grooves though, such as ‘Rhythm All Over’, on which Hill describes his usual modus operandi while adding a bit more variation to his typical stomp. It opens with a jagged riff that Hill proceeds to take in different directions around the chorus, and features a strong slide solo. ‘Walking Grave’ is an old-fashioned blues made heavy, and busy with some shifts in tempo, while Hill rips out some big guitar chords.
A couple of other stompers are satisfactory, if less dynamic. And I could probably live without both ‘Still A Fool And A Rolling Stone’ (aka ‘Catfish Blues’) and Hill’s version of ‘Rollin & Tumblin’, even if neither lets the side down. The former is in a slow tempo a la Hendrix and adds an interesting coda, while Hill’s sonorous vocals continue to impress with their authenticity. The latter is a straight ahead reading, though it eschews the classic ‘shave and a haircut, two bits’ rhythm, but does feature some shuddering slide and a more arresting ‘Stop Breaking Down’ interlude that plays around with the rhythm.
Steve Hill explores some heavier dimensions than the aforementioned Matt Andersen, but as Solo Recordings: Volume 3 demonstrates, he too does a damn good job of carrying the torch for the true solo musician. This is an album with guts and taste, and I say more power to Steve Hill’s elbow.
Solo Recordings: Volume 3 is released on 6 October 2017 by No Label Records.
Steve Hill is touring Germany in September, and supporting Wishbone Ash on a 27 date UK tour in October and November.