Seriously. Ned Hill's new album Six Feet Above the Ground ain't quite country. Not quite, and yet every lick and shuffle says it should be, from the slight southern (or is it backwoods) accent to the heavy reverb and almost-twang of about every note played. This should be country. It should...
Virtually every recording technique and twist of the knobs leans that way but somehow, between the writing of the songs and the finished product, it avoids everything Nashville has beaten to death over the decades of its dominance. But perhaps it is not “between”. Perhaps it is the writing itself, for ol' Ned Hill, bless his country-leaning heart, has found a way around the cliches bringing Nashville to the brink of death-by-not-being-what-it-says-it-is. Cliches that eventually developed into the bland formula known these days as Modern Country. Cliches which are slowly making Nashville the joke of the music industry through pure repetition and an insistence that the crap being produced there is really country, honest, just played through a stack of Marshalls by musicians who really can play their instruments but prefer the ease of formulaic mediocrity. Now, I am not saying that Nashville has not produced some damn good stuff over the past number of years, just that the music on the whole just does not pass muster. Not as country music. To my ears, not much as music, either.
Hill seems to have skirted this trap by writing tunes outside the formula--- a bunch of them, in fact. My first time through, I worried that the light reverb on the guitar and the emphasis on lyrics might not last, worry wasted. Track after track, Hill and band (and they are a very good band, let me tell you) step just far enough away without disturbing the flow. Some rock, some shuffle, some just lay back. All are good. Some better than good.
Now, I know what's going to happen. Some of you will listen for ten seconds and quit because you're going to say it sounds country. Don't make that mistake. The truth is in the details and this puppy is detailed for the length of the album. Give it a chance. If you stick with it, you're going to understand. Because this ain't quite country... and it's damn good.