By, Tom Baldino
Robert Hill has been an active member of the JSJBF for a couple of years, competing in the IBC and recently performing in the “Blue Collar Blues” series at member venue the “Chubby Pickle.” There, his considerable guitar skills were on display. On this new disc, which drops on September 23rd, he teams up with vocalist Joanne Lediger; his daughter Paulina Hill, who accompanied him at the IBC; and the superb rhythm section of Steve Gelfand on bass and Frank Pagano on drums and percussion. As you might have guessed from the title, the eleven cuts are spiritual in nature, but filtered through the lens of a blues man. “John the Revelator” is one of six traditional cuts and comes to life with Joanne’s inspired singing and great sound of Robert’s National Resophonic Radio Tone guitar. When he adds his harp to the mix, and later the slide, it takes on an ominous feel that matches the lyrics. “Run On” takes on some of the hypocrisy of organized religion, and while this version doesn’t have a gospel choir, it more than makes up for it with Robert’s stinging slide and Joanne’s vocal delivery. Frank’s opening percussion and drum signature on “Soul of a Man” set the tone for Robert’s plaintive vocals, reminiscent of Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel blues version from the 1930’s. Joanne’s backing vocals harken back to another time and place. The Tom Waits penned “Way Down In the Hole” benefits from their straight up blues delivery which showcases Robert’s considerable blues chops with the band in lock step behind him. The first of Robert’s originals, “Jesus by the Riverside,” shows he can write a spiritual equal to any of the traditional songs here. Again, sharp vocals, expressive guitar, and driving percussion make this one a winner. The chunky rhythm and minor cords of the original “Pay One Way or Another” allows Joanne’s vocals to drive home the point that we all pay for our sins one way or the other. The song is highlighted by some terrific B3, compliments of veteran session player Ed Alstrom. One of the most covered spirituals, from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Led Zepplin, “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” is delivered in upbeat fashion. It belies the cautionary tale of the lyrics, but somehow it works, as it grabs the listener in to find the true meaning of the song. “A Devil’s Fool,” another gem penned and sung by Robert, delivers the pitfalls of life in fast-paced blues that is sure to get your toes tapping. “Samson and Delilah” recounts the well-known bible story as sung by Joanne with some inspired picking and slide guitar by Robert to put a fresh spin on the tale. The last of the four originals, “Preacher’s Blues,” driven by Frank’s drumming is two minutes and seventeen seconds of Joanne’s gospel singing and that Resophonic guitar that begs for more. The closing cut, “Jesus on the Mainline,” is done in the traditional manor, reminding me of Mavis Staples’ version with the big ending, the perfect way to close out this stellar collection.
This is a labor of love brought to fruition by a group of very talented musicians led by a man with a creative vision, Robert Hill. I suggest you check it out. You can see Robert and his band on October 2nd at Salty’s Beach Bar when they will be part of the JSJBF local IBC (New Jersey Blues Challenge).