Recently, we told you about the debut album from Canadian harmonica player Roly Platt entitled Inside Out. With a late fall release, that one came out just a bit too late to be eligible for this year’s Maple Blues Awards (Canada’s equivalent of the Blues Music Awards) held a few a weeks back in Toronto, but we’d be surprised not to see Platt and his album nominated in a few categories for the next annual awards coming up in early 2016.
The big winner at this year’s Maple Blues Awards, meanwhile, was Canadian guitarist and singer Steve Hill, who took home awards for entertainer, guitarist, electric act, and recording of the year for his Solo Recordings Vol. 2. We never got the chance to hear Hill’s Solo Recordings Vol. 1 (winner of the best self-produced album honor at the 2013 International Blues Challenge) – or, for that matter, the four-track EP that came in between, entitled, fittingly enough, Solo Recordings Vol. 1 1/2 – but you can bet we’ll be checking them both out soon after hearing all that Hill has to offer on Vol. 2, which, like its predecessor, has also been nominated for a Juno Award (the Canadian version of the Grammy Awards).
Despite a sound comparable to that of fellow Canadian trio MonkeyJunk and U.S. acts like Moreland & Arbuckle and Gary Clark, Jr., Hill is – as the titles of his latest recordings indicate – a true one-man show, tearing away on guitar and vocals as well as on drums, cymbals, and even sometimes harmonica. “I’ve got a drum kit at my feet; we’ve modified all of my guitars with an extra pick-up that takes the sound of the two big strings that goes through an octaver and a bass amp so I got a bass sound at the same time that I’m playing the guitar,” notes Hill in his press materials. “I got a drum stick now so that I can play the right cymbal and I started playing harp about a year-and-a-half ago. It’s very challenging, but I love this sound. It’s very basic and very raw.”
And very good too, from the biting chorus and scorching guitar of the gritty opener “Still Got It Bad” and dirty shuffle of Little Walter’s “Hate to See You Go” (minus the harmonica) – one of three covers on the album, along with a hard-driving take on Muddy Waters’ “I Want You to Love Me” and the soft, breezy “Simple Things” (Ray Bonneville) – to the creeping country blues of a Johnny Cash-like “Tough Luck” (that does include harmonica), and everything in between.
A few of songs, like the catchy “Slim Chance” and the swaying ballad “Better”, sound like something that easily could have been included on the soundtrack of an ’80s John Hughes film, while other cuts like “Never is Such a Long Time” and “Go On” are more apt to remind listeners of current blues artists like Gary Clark, Jr. and Johnny Sansone, respectively, with some forceful harp combining with Hill’s mostly gruff vocals on lyrics like “push me round, and call me weak/ slap me in the face, I’ll turn the other cheek/ I don’t wanna’ give up on you, no matter what you do/ but with the way you make me feel, how can i go on? Go on…” on the latter, giving way to a smooth, soulful chorus and falsetto notes.
The hard-edged “The Collector” offers more of our favorite lines from Hill in “But I don’t want your Steve Austin Six Million Dollar Man figurine/ and you can keep your Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card…just give some truth, gimme’ somethin’ real, give me somethin’ I can truly feel”, with the album closing on the mellow grooves of “Long Road”.
As great as it is to hear Hill doing his thing on Solo Recordings Vol. 2 (already his eighth full-length studio album), you really need to see him in action to appreciate all of which Hill is capable. Here’s a video of Hill at this year’s Maple Blues Awards doing “Still Got It Bad/Hate to See You Go” to give you a taste of what we mean: