Friday, November 11, 2022

Steve Hill - Dear Illusion

Wait, what?  This is Steve Hill, right?  Long-haired Canadian dude, pretty intense looking?  Purveyor of hard-riffing blues-rock and shimmering acoustic blues?  Generally to be found playing as a one man band these last ten years or so?  This is that Steve Hill?
So what in Sam Hill is going on with all these horns plastered all over his new release Dear Illusion?
I’ll tell you what’s going on – Steve Hill is having a shitload of fun, that’s what.
Okay, so ‘All About The Love’ kicks off with a trilling guitar riff and a simple stomping beat that sounds very much like Hill in his one man band mode – but then the swell of horns preceding his rat-a-tat vocal makes you prick up your ears.  As well you might, because when he hits the
Steve Hill has himself a quiet night in
Pic by Scott Doubt
chorus – BLAM! - there’s a virulent outbreak of horn-blaring gospellation fit to have Jake and Ellwood Blues jigging about like a pair of loons.  And that’s just for openers.
Swear to god, I could well imagine Mick Jagger prancing about at the end of a catwalk to the likes of ‘Keep It Together’ and ‘Everything You Got’.  The first kicks off with a harp riff that’s taken up by guitar, with perfect punctuation from The Devil Horns, while Hill hollers “Wake me up when it’s over, please somebody spiked my drink,” given extra oomph by spot on backing vocals.  And the razor-edged slide guitar that plays off against the hook is a pretty cool too.  ‘Everything You Got’ opens with a horn fanfare that swiftly gets elbowed out of the way by a nailed-on, ZZ Top-like fuzzy guitar riff over swinging, punchy drums and more horn interjections.  It’s stuffed with vitality, everything fitting together hand in glove, and catchy as hell.  (Be sure to click on the link for the video, which captures the good-time vibe brilliantly.)
In a similar upbeat vein, ‘Steal The Light From You’ is a whomping good-time shuffle, with a carefree ascending riff and the horns flaring brightly, and expertly twanging guitar breaks.
So who are they, these Devil Horns that are so much to the fore?  No, they’re not some legendary outfit like the Muscle Shoals gang.  It’s just the moniker Hill has given to the various groups of brass exponents he conscripted at different times, and in different places, to beef up particular songs – the point being that regardless of their disparate recruitment processes, somebody or somebodies have done a A1 job of getting exactly the right contributions out of them.
Oh yeah, and those swinging, punchy drums?  It’s worth noting that Wayne Proctor does the skin-walloping on six of the tracks here, bringing extra groove to proceedings as well as mixing and mastering the whole caboodle.
But Hill also makes room for his sensitive side.  ‘Dear Illusion’ itself is a yearning contemplation of self-deception in love, the chorus borne aloft by the horns.  ‘So It Goes’ is a reflective, iridescent acoustic breather, and the closing ‘Until The Next Time’ is laid back and romantic, with Hill’s crooning vocal accompanied by swooning horns and some sparkling guitar. 
It has to be said that Hill’s voice sounds in particularly good fettle too.  On both ‘Don’t Let The Truth Get In The Way (Of A Good Story)’ and ‘She Gives Lessons In Blues’ the name of Paul Rodgers sprang into my mind.  Not that Hill could seriously be taken for Rodgers – who could?  But I could imagine Rodgers offering a polite round of applause for the soul Hill applies to these tracks.  The first comes with an irresistible snappy rhythm, another decent hook, and a twirling solo.  The second is a funky sorta blues, with more on-the-money horn moments, and Hill’s guitar ramping up the swaggering fun quotient.  And there’s more soul in ‘Follow Your Heart’, of which Hill admits nicking the chords from a song played at his mum’s choir’s Christmas show, though he can’t recall the song itself.  Well, my money is on the jazz classic ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’, and he does it justice with this swinging, sunny, but measured take, including some splendidly free’n’easy guitar work.
Some albums you like because they intrigue you, some because they push the envelope and show some imagination.  Dear Illusion is an album to be enjoyed because it’s terrific entertainment, pure and simple.
Dear Illusion is out now on No Label Records, and can be ordered here.

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