“Hill has come into his own as a songwriter... He's obviously got a big heart as well as nimble hands.” - Penguin Eggs
“Suspicions that Hill could be typecast by his freakish prowess as a ukulele player are swept aside." - The Australian
The Old Silo invites you into a world of new beginnings, old regrets, might-have-beens, burning questions, beautiful women, horny geezers and gold diggers. Produced by indie rock hero Joel Plaskett and recorded at New Scotland Yard in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, James Hill's latest album cuts a deep, winding path through Folk, Roots Rock and Americana.
Hill has made a career as an award-winning ukulele player and songwriter, an uncompromising artist who "gives the ukulele its dignity back without ever taking himself too seriously" (Songlines). The Old Silo sees him charting a course into deeper, rockier waters with Plaskett at the helm. The album has an edginess and swagger unlike anything Hill has ever recorded: the thundering baritone ukulele riff in She's Still Got It wouldn't be out of place on a Black Keys album and the grinding slide ukulele in Tie One On would make Jack White proud. Catchy, energetic cuts like New Moon, Promenade and Lovebirds would be at home at any outdoor summer music festival.
But it's not all sex, drugs and ukulele. There are moments of stillness and striking beauty: the haunting strings in For So Long, the intimacy of I'll Never Know, and the country ballad If Wishes Were Horses show that Hill hasn't entirely lost himself in overdriven amps and pounding drums.
In addition to Hill's work on ukulele (tenor, baritone and slide), violin and drums, The Old Silo features a number of talented guests: Plaskett sings harmonies throughout and plays drums on five tracks, Anne Janelle brings soaring harmony and cello, Bill Stevenson adds his inimitable piano style to three songs and Joe Murphy weighs in with his killer blues harp on the hard-driving Promenade.
The Old Silo is Hill's first album since his acclaimed Man With a Love Song in 2011 and he has been anything but idle in the interim. World travels, strained friendships, persistent memories and a wedding have shaped the cast of characters that inhabit the world of The Old Silo. It's a cast that reads like the credits to an imaginary off-Broadway play: a mother, a father, an only son, an old man and two beautiful women. The album unfolds like a well-wrapped gift, each song revealing something more about the characters and, in turn, about the author.
Welcome to The Old Silo. Who knows what you'll find inside.
BackgroundSo how does a kid from Canada become what the Honolulu Star-Bulletin calls a “rare peer” of Hawaii’s premier ukulele players? James Hill grew up nearly three thousand miles east of Honolulu in the town of Langley, British Columbia, where ukulele instruction has been mandatory in many schools since the late 1970s. To his fourth grade classmates, the ukulele was a means to an end, a way for them to dip their toes into the vast ocean of music. For James, the uke was a sea of possibilities unto itself and inside its tiny wooden shell he saw his life in music. He was hooked.
During his teenage years James honed his skills as a key member of the renowned Langley Ukulele Ensemble and as a student at the Langley Community Music School. He continued his study of music at the University of British Columbia where he earned a Bachelor of Music Degree in 2003. In a full-circle plot twist, James – also a passionate teacher – went on to co-author the Ukulele in the Classroom method book series with J. Chalmers Doane, the trail-blazing teacher who pioneered the use of ukuleles in Canadian schools. In 2010, James and his father Barry, a retired school teacher, launched the JHUI Teacher Certification Program, the first of its kind in the world. His most ambitious educational offering to date is The Ukulele Way, a ground-breaking learning method that combines print, video, audio and its own social media platform.
James Hill has come a long way from that fateful day in fouth-grade music class. A seasoned performer with a fan base in North America, Asia and Europe, he has garnered wide acclaim for his ground-breaking approach to a chronically-underestimated instrument. Over the course of his first three genre-defying albums – Playing it like it isn’t... (2002), On the Other Hand (2003) and A Flying Leap (2006) – he re-wrote every rule that had previously kept the ukulele in the realm of novelty and obscurity. Then came the Canadian-Folk-Music-Award-winning True Love Don’t Weep (2009), his collaboration with cellist/singer Anne Janelle Davison, an album that pushed the budding singer/songwriter into new territory, topped folk radio charts in North America and opened doors to festival stages across the continent.
Man With a Love Song (2011), reached a new plateau yet again. “An album for troubled times," wrote TRAD magazine, "joie de vivre, tenderness and musical perfection." “Stellar," proclaimed Exlaim! Magazine, "A fantastic album from a man who makes songwriting seem effortless.” Seemingly overnight, Hill had made the delicate transition from instrumentalist to songwriter.
A singer, songwriter, educator and virtuoso instrumentalist, James Hill is a man on a musical mission. It's a mission that reaches beyond the concert stage and into communities, homes and classrooms around the world. After all, what's left when the applause fades and the bright lights go dark? The sound of ukuleles strumming happily into the night...