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Hillman has released a
strong new album
featuring remakes of a
few Byrds tunes from
their earliest years.
by Andrew Elias
Chris Hillman is one of those artists that you probably havent heard of but youve been enjoying his music for years. As a crucial member of The Byrds (with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, Flying Burrito Brothers (with Gram Parsons), Manassas (with Stephen Stills), and Souther-Hillman-Furay Band (with JD Souther), Hillman was one of the founding fathers of what we now call Americana music, music that melds various strains of American music from country & western, folk, bluegrass, and southern rock & roll.
In recent years he has continued to make excellent music, partnering with Herb Pedersen in the Desert Rose Band, keeping true to his C&W and bluegrass roots. Hillmans new release is a bit of a departure, revisiting the folk rock sound of The Byrds. And who better to produce the record than Tom Petty, whose own sound owes so much to that seminal rock band of the 60s?
With the aid of old pals David Crosby and Roger McGuinn, and long-time fans Petty and Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, as well as Pedersen and Desert Rose Band members, Hillman has released a strong new album featuring remakes of a few Byrds tunes from their earliest years (The Bells of Rhymney, Here She Comes, She Dont Care About Me, Old John Robertson), Tom Pettys hit Wildflowers and The Everly Brothers classic, Walk Right Back.
Few artists in the rock & roll pantheon have had a more storied, successful or influential career as Hillman, who continues to forge ahead making new music as classy and comfortable as any of his past work.
To have Lynne and her sister Moorer join forces for an entire album is a dream come true for fans of either, and they will not be disappointed by their new collaboration. Each has a distinctive voice, yet both convey a combination of feminist strength and personal vulnerability, with Shelby tending to channel the bluesy sounds of Memphis a bit more and Allison leaning more towards the classic country music of Nashville.
In a collection of outstanding songs by the likes of Merle Haggard (Silver Wings), Townes Van Zandt (Lungs), Jason Isbell (The Color of a Cloudy Day), Nick Cave (Into My Arms), and Bob Dylan (the title track), their cover of Kurt Cobains Lithium may be the best of the bunch as well as the most surprising choice. Their emotional take on Jessi Colters Im Looking For Blue Eyes is another standout.
Oh, that velvety voice! Lauderdales soulful vocals and easygoing style are hard to resist, and coupled with some of the strongest songwriting of his long career (its his 29th album), London Southern is some of his best work to date. The Nashville veteran teams up here with British rock legend, Nick Lowes band, and whether it be the horn-enhanced soul of I Cant Do Without You, the gospel influenced What Do You Have to Lose?, the jazzy blues of If I Can Resist, the honky tonk fun of Dont Shut Me Down, or the melancholy ballad, I Love You More, Lauderdale has put together a collection of original songs with a groove thats as easy to enjoy as listening to his distinctively gorgeous singing.
Things have recently gotten very real for Earle, and if this album is any indication of how he hopes to meet his new lifes demands sobriety, marriage, impending fatherhood he should have nothing to worry about. At the very least, hes making the best music of his life.
With the experience and confidence of six albums behind him, Earle tackles rockin rockabilly (Champagne Corolla), heartbreaking honky tonk (Whats She Crying For?), jazzy swing (Whats Goin On), New Orleans R&B (15-25), and bluesy soul (There Goes A Fool) with the same songwriting prowess and sense of fun.
Earle has a way of being both of the country and comfortably urban, thoroughly modern and somewhat old-timey, a serious social commentator and a good-humored balladeer. Perhaps that is why he can embrace so many and varied musical genres to convey his maturing personal angst and world view. His best album to date and a foreshadowing of better things to come.