Wearing his own kind of hat

Strong Roots
Hugh Hill (Independent Release

By Tom Flood

Country music has a penchant for swinging back and forth like the doors in an old honky-tonk. While older artists are hearing the phrase "last call" from the industry, and a plethora of newer artists claim the moniker "country," it is the traditional country music fan who has the hardest time finding a new artist with a fundamental traditional sound. With his release Strong Roots, Hugh Hill has proven there can be a place in today's market for the neo-traditional country artist.

Strong Roots opens with "Solitary 502," a song co-written with tunesmith Mike Swayze and, although the lyrical content reflects the loneliness of a man shunned by a lover, a theme Hill seems to be well acquainted with throughout most of the record, it is the tempo and instrumentation that gives this song a positive, grab-your-dancing-partner feel. Michael Murphy's swinging saxophone fills juxtaposed with the classy linear phrasings of fiddler Jeff Guernsey bring to the song a familiar, yet different, feel-good groove. This example of Hill's particular brand of country boogie would bring the two-stepping crowd at Coyote's to their feet.

Reminiscent of one of your favorite George Jones or Vern Gosdin songs, Hill hits the mark square with "The Last Time She Crossed My Mind (Was The First Thing Today)." Although the hook is endearing enough, it is within this song that Hill shows us his true traditional roots. As the steel guitar of Rex Wiseman haunts its way through the composition, yet warms you like an old family quilt, it is the lyrics "I should let old dogs lay" and "this ain't my first rodeo," that bring the listener to Hill's "well." There is more than just loyalty and devotion to lost love here within the slow 6/8 time structure. Hill's voice and lyrical content draw the listener up close and personal as he fits right in with those traditional country artists who pack a song as full of emotion as an old suitcase on a two-week vacation.

More like a manifesto than a song, Hill reveals many of his musical heroes in "There's A lot Of Haggard In Me." He tips his hat to such artists as Jimmie Rodgers, Waylon and Willie, David Allen Coe, Whisperin' Bill Anderson and, of course, Merle Haggard. Listening to this track, I could not help but think of those older artists who have shown respect by way of song for those who had influence on them in their professional careers.

"Early Morning Call" is another lament over lost love, fueled by whiskey and old memories. Mandolin and steel guitar offer caressing background lines while fiddler Jeff Guernsey once again evokes sadness and contemplation. Although verse and refrain structure tends to be somewhat similar and repetitive in its lyrical content, the song makes you think of an old relationship that you've kept in a special place in your heart throughout the years.

An interesting surprise on the record is the track "I'm A Race Horse," a song acknowledging the Kentucky horse racing industry, and, specifically, a thoroughbred who won the Derby and the Preakness, but fell short of the Triple Crown due to injury. The call-to-the-post is a tasteful piano introduction and the end of the piece is appropriately structured around the Bluegrass State's state song, "My Old Kentucky Home." (No, you'll have to buy the record.)

"I Wouldn't Change A Damn Thing Even If I Could" is an appropriate coda for the CD. Once again, Hill expounds his beliefs about who he is and gives us another glimpse as to some of the whys. This song, although arranged for full ensemble on the record, could also work well live as a solo piece.

With a backup band made up of noted musicians Tim Krekel, Doc Dockery, Jeff Guernsey, Michael Murphy, Rex Wiseman, Kent Houchin and other stellar performers, Hugh Hill is giving the listener something the recording industry is unwilling to do at this time - new music that nurtures the traditional country music fan. Perhaps in time the industry will recognize the need for cowboys like Hugh Hill, men who know where their roots are.

Strong Roots is available at ear X-tacy Record Store.

Tom Flood is a composer/guitarist, songwriter and operates floodmon productions. His new record, Echo's From the Heart, has just been released on the ear x-tacy record label You can contact him at www.floodmon.com