Ned Hill has, at least for now, traded in the blistering, no-holds barred rock from his 15-year tenure in Ned Van Go, for a solo turn. He hasn't completely left it behind though, as railroad themes, lost love and surviving through struggles - themes that drove his last few albums with that band - are very much present here. Even a reconstructed version of the title track from the band's 2006 album "Marry a Waitress," appears here. Make no mistake, however, this is new territory for Hill.
Truth be told, despite Hill's writing and singing, credit should almost equally go to producer and stellar axeman Dave Coleman, who dialed down Hill's hardcore attack to a roots rock mode, not unlike Coleman's own band The Coal Men or the recent work Coleman's done with Lyn Taylor & the BarFlies. Hill doesn't wield his trademark Telecaster, having surrendered that role to Coleman who plays an array of guitars, keyboards, bass, percussion and backing vocals. Hill strums an acoustic and blows his harp a few times. There's even a string section for the opening track "Half Alive." Nonetheless, the music bounces nicely with infectious hooks, jangling guitars, pulsating rhythm section and Hill's authentic narratives. He's a terrific story teller.
Hill stares down a railroad track on "Half Alive" and "Kick the Stars" - 'Oh the train roll on/tearin' up these rails I'm on/heading north to kingdom come/ but it'll be alright/I'll kick the stars and kiss the moon goodnight." In between we get the rave-up "Detroit City (You're One Tough Town}," his whole life told in three minutes in "That's My Story," and later, the stomping "Revival" and the mourning of lost jobs and shuttered storefronts in "The Streets of My Hometown."
More contemplative fare is found in the stunning love song "When You're Gone" and "Marry a Waitress," where he draws a detailed character portrait accented by Coleman's lap steel. Hill demonstrates killer vocal chops in both, hitting high notes that linger.
This is the epitome of what we like about Americana - great songs filled with rich, gritty images of streets and railroads, love lost and found - all backed by edgy country arrangements that owe as much to old school rock n' roll as classic country.