James Hill – The Old Silo
The Old Silo is James’ first album since his critically acclaimed Man With a Love Song in 2011 and he has been anything but idle in the interim. World travels, strained friendships, persistent memories and a wedding have shaped the cast of characters that inhabit the world of The Old Silo. It’s a cast that reads like the credits to an imaginary off-Broadway play: a mother, a father, an only son, an old man and two beautiful women. The album, produced by indie rocker Joel Plaskett unfolds with each song revealing something more about the characters and, in turn, about the author himself. Oh and somewhere there’s even a ukulele.
James has made a career as an award-winning ukulele player and songwriter, an uncompromising artist who “gives the ukulele its dignity back without ever taking himself too seriously” (Songlines). The Old Silo sees him charting a course into deeper, rockier waters with Plaskett at the helm. The album has an edginess and swagger unlike anything Hill has ever recorded: the thundering baritone ukulele riff in She’s Still Got It wouldn’t be out of place on a Black Keys album and the grinding slide ukulele in Tie One On would make Jimmy Page proud. Catchy, energetic cuts like New Moon, Promenade and Lovebirds would be at home at any outdoor summer music festival.
But it’s not all sex, drugs and ukulele. There are moments of stillness and striking beauty: the haunting strings in For So Long, the intimacy of I’ll Never Know, and the country ballad If Wishes Were Horses show that Hill hasn’t entirely lost himself in over-driven amps and pounding drums.
In addition to Hill’s work on ukulele (tenor, baritone and slide), violin and drums, The Old Silo features a number of talented guests: Plaskett sings harmonies throughout and plays drums on five tracks, Anne Janelle brings soaring harmony and cello, Bill Stevenson adds his inimitable piano style to three songs and Joe Murphy weighs in with his killer blues harp on the hard-driving Promenade.