Jan 2, 2014 ~ I’ve been bursting at the seams for this one to be released ever since hearing demos at the Kahumoku ‘Ohana Workshop last year. What has James done this time? Well, I wasn’t quite sure at first. Then it stated to dawn on me. Mr. Hill has crafted a work that takes “‘ukulele” for the sake of being ‘ukulele completely out of the picture. Instead, with The Old Silo it’s become a complementary instrument that is a vehicle for music.
So what is it? The Old Silo is a bombshell of 11 original songs from James Hill. Songs that you could classify as folk-rock. Songs that have whipping distortion lines and riffs. Songs that feature brilliant songwriting and lyrics that make you think “why couldn’t I come up with that?!” Songs that James says on his site are “new beginnings, old regrets, might-have-beens, burning questions, beautiful women, horny geezers and gold diggers.” It’s like nothing we’ve ever heard before in the ‘ukulele realm.
But on to the ‘ukulele… Fans of James’ pyrotechnical mastery of the instrument are going to be disappointed. Every song is a vocal piece. There’s no Frozen Boot or even Assam/Like a Bird sort of ‘ukulele playing hidden in the folds of The Old Silo. This time the brilliance has gone towards raw riffs and complementary ‘ukulele parts that interlock like the best Lego set ever. What solos do appear are understated and, shall we say, experimental.
The whole package – album art to final track – reminds me of a bygone era when scruffy miners flocked to the West coast and the saw mills ran on water. It’s a really cool experience.
Some of the highlights for me are:
- Prominade – A footstomping tune that sounds like James waltzed into a swing dance with his ‘ukulele and a dirty amp in tow to lead the jam. This song has some of the best lyrical lines of the whole album. It’s a joyful sound.
- She’s Still Got It – The rolling intro riff might be the most swampy thing ever recorded on an ‘ukulele. Add in several falsetto James’s singing the title line in the background and a Black Keys sort of metric modulation in the middle and you’ve got a grinding groovy tune.
- If Wishes Were Horses – One of several ballads that break up the rockers, Horses is, to me, the most beautiful song Old Silo has to offer. The mellow, telling vocals paint the picture of a love lost.
- Tie One On – When I first heard the demos, Tie One On would not have been one of my top picks. But that was then and this is now and it came to life in the studio version. This track tells the story of the Old Silo that graces the cover and title of the album. It features one of the few solos of the album as the outro.
All said and done, if you’re the traditional type, you’re not going to like The Old Silo very much. James made very little effort to conform to the expectations of his fans. However, if you’ve been hoping for something new that takes the ‘ukulele to new territory, pick yourself up a copy and gather around the stereo! I love what James has done here, but then again, I’m kind of a rebel.