Tuesday, May 12, 2015

CD Review of Hillwilliams—HILL YEAH

Image635670037127319667Hillwilliams is a Bluegrass group from the Portland, Oregon area. Their release of Hill Yeah consists of ten cuts, of which seven are original compositions and three are instrumentals. The cast for this production was Rich Landar on Mandolin and vocals. He also engineered and produced the CD. Matt Franzen plays banjo and sings. Jeffree White plays acoustic guitar and also does vocals. David Gerow plays fiddle and Bernardo Gomez plays upright bass.

The overall feel of the project is homemade, original and within the general parameters that most folk would call Bluegrass. They combine to create some nice work, making good use of their strengths, which is arranging and composing. Rose City Waltz, composed by fiddler, David Gerow, is quite an intricate piece that I can imagine being a fine contest fiddle selection. Mr. Gerow also wrote another of the other instrumentals, Ratty Old Hat, which has an upbeat, swing feel and quite a number of chord changes. Banjoist Matt Franzen plays a strong break on this one, as does bassist, Gomez.

All of the Hillwilliams are able to provide an entertaining level of instrumental mastery and all have a chance to shine on this CD. Gerow is an intriguing fiddler and Gomez plays fine bass. Rich Landar’s instrumental composition, Tomorrow’s Bank Robbery, is exceptional and has some nice harmony phrasing, as well as a quality arrangement.

I also enjoyed the upbeat vocal piece, The Hankerin’, composed by White. Once again, this cut benefits from some fine arranging. Change Your Mind, penned by Landar, has some good vocal work. Sadly, the vocal quality throughout the project is inconsistent. From the liner notes it is not possible to tell who sings lead or harmony on which cuts. While there are certainly some good moments, there are also places where the harmonies and vocal integrity is shaky. However, their arrangements, good timing and interesting compositions almost make up for the weak spots.

In the opinion of this reviewer, I believe Hillwilliams’ next recording project would benefit from a good producer and, possibly, from better studio mics. Though the liner notes don’t specify recording details, I suspect this project was recorded in a non-professional environment, which is perfectly fine. But, for a more polished sound, there is no substitute for experience and objectivity.

The Hillwilliams group has put together a CD that they can be proud of and I’m certain friends and fans alike will enjoy their efforts. I certainly did!

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