NED HILL - Six Feet Above Ground
New Solo Record From The Leader Of Ned Van Go
Ned Hill - vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica
Dave Coleman - electric guitar, baritone guitar, slide guitar, pedal steel guitar, organ, percussion, bass, backing vocals
Jeffrey Perkins - drums, percussion
Johnny Mark Miller - bass, backing vocals
Eamon McLoughlin - violin and viola
Produced by Dave Coleman
Recorded and Mixed by Dave Coleman at Howard's Apartment Studio, East Nashville, TN
For some thirty years Ned Hill has walked the tracks of a hard-bitten troubadour, wearing equal parts humor and fury on his t-shirt sleeve, working at a shoe factory in the daytime and singing his songs at night in dives for door money. Any given weekend will have him driving 500 miles to play dusty rock and roll, and sing country songs about damaged love, castaways, dying small towns, and people who’ve been knocked down and kicked hard.
On this landmark new release, “Six Feet Above Ground,” he sings about life: his own and the ones who got away. (Oh Lord, that’s my story, stuck between faith and the pain and glory) with equal parts Bottlerockets and Paul Westerberg, with dashes of Petty, Earle, Haggard, the Jayhawks – and even trace elements of a yearning Ian Hunter with a southern accent.
“Six Feet Above Ground” is Hill’s first solo album. For fifteen years (2001-2016) Nashville’s Ned Van Go was the rough-hewn vehicle for Hill’s tunes. Before that there were similar leadership roles in The Cowards and The Blue Cha Chas. While all their (occasionally brilliant) records progressively showed off maturation, the new release is a quantum leap further still.
Produced by Nashville guitar stalwart, Dave Coleman, Hill’s Telecaster-bashing of yore has been supplanted with acoustic guitar, with Coleman’s deft Gretsch and Fender touches framing the sound picture. There’s even a string section, to take Hill’s songs into delicate territory he’s never visited before. Lest things get too sweet, the rhythm section – Jeffrey Perkins on drums and Johnny Mark Miller on bass – swings for the bleachers whenever called upon to do so.
“I had an idea what I wanted,” Hill says, “I was real happy with the strings and being able to incorporate it without forcing it, and making it sound like it needs to be there.” It lends a bluesy “Ode to Billy Joe” to the swaggering opening track “Half Alive.” (Standing here staring down a railroad track, baby I’m half alive.) Railroads are a lynchpin of the record; people are always in transition. Lovers are always disappearing.
“Detroit City (You’re One Tough Town)” rocks it up, a paean to a city on it’s knees. On “That’s My Story”. Hill’s whole life is there, from his childhood in Horse Cave, Kentucky, to his years at school in Memphis on a basketball scholarship that he blew in spectacular fashion, to who and where he is now. (Here I am with this old guitar / a long time gone but not too far). “The Streets of My Hometown” is a salutation to the smaller dying towns of America, in the wakes of Wal-Marts and factory jobs going away.
Two of the albums highlights are the softer, contemplative, “Marry a Waitress” and the starkly beautiful “When You’re Gone”, where Hill delivers a tremulous quiet high note on the last chorus that puts any corporate bro-country product to shame. (And I suppose the sun will rise again and bring another day / but I don’t know if I can take this world without your pretty face).
In the end on “Six Feet Above Ground”, life is affirmed. People fight to keep what is theirs, even as they mourn what has gone. “Kick the Stars”, another standout track, captures Ned Hill’s joyous mule-headed intention to get through all the crap and someday-someday!- be on the winning side of the tracks. (Oh 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).