Surrender Hill - Just Another Honky Tonk in a Quiet Western Town
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Just Another Honky Tonk in a Quiet Western Town (Blue Betty, 2022)

Surrender Hill

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

Surrender Hill is the husband/wife duo of Robin Dean Salmon and Afton Seekins who deliver a double disc, double genre concept album "Just Another Honky Tonk in a Quiet Western Town." The first half of that phrase constitutes disc one, songs that evoke a rowdy cowboy bar in the yesteryear West, full of Telecaster twang, melodies and touches of Dobro. The second part of the title plays more toward the Americana side, stocked with tunes that deal with pandemic-induced lonesomeness that's akin to everyday life pre-pandemic in a small towns.

The diverse backgrounds of the couple make for an interesting mix. Salmon was an award-winning punk frontman who spent the first part of his adolescence in South Africa before moving to a longhorn ranch in Texas. After a successful career in New York, he retreated to the sounds he heard on the ranch.

Seekins grew up splitting her time between an Alaskan fishing village and an Arizona frontier town. As a talented dancer and success as a choreographer in New York, she wanted to be a songwriter and returned to Arizona, which is where the couple met. The album takes its name from the real-life Surrender Hill in South Africa, where the Anglo-Boer War culminated.

The couple, who trade leads and harmonies, get terrific support from renowned guitarist Mike Waldron and pedal steel great Mike Daly. Disc one opens in mellow, nostalgic fashion with "Cowboy Campfire Song," but the twang kicks in impactfully with both singing on "Just Stay" through "If This Ain't My Rodeo" and the title track. Seekins takes the lead on pedal steel driven ballad "Call Upon My Friends," and her beautiful voice imbues "Heartache Goodbye." Other highlights on this disc are Salmon singing authentically about the cowboy life in "Long Rider" and "Heart of Texas."

The opener of the second disc, "Tumbleweed," speaks vividly to isolation with imagery of shuttered storefronts and empty roads and sidewalks, indelible images from the first months of the pandemic. Seekins shines in emotive ballads "One In the Same," "Sunshine and Silver Linings," and "Forever Mine," while Salmon tugs at emotional heartstrings in "Back to Livin'," "Arizona Morning" and "Dusty Horse." The duets "Quiet Western Town" and the indelible "Old Chair" hit the laid-back mood perfectly. Yet, the couple make important statements too as on "Love Your Neighbor" and "Nothing But the Skin," both meant to heal the divisiveness that unfortunately abounds. With 24 songs in all, it's remarkable that all are so well crafted.

CDs by Surrender Hill

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