It’s twice in a row now that Adam Hill has delivered. If another one of his discs winds up on my desk, he’s going to have to work hard to outdo himself again.
When examining Hill’s work, he starts to seem less like a folk musician and more like a folk composer. This album is not the work of a group that took the name of its leader. Hill, in fact, plays every instrument on Them Dirty Roads (except for the fiddle) and provides all the vocals (aside from some of the backups). Hill is in control of every aspect of the album and compiles it into a sort of an operatic Americana symphony.
Whereas his previous album, Four Shades of Green, was more subdued in tone, Them Dirty Roads comes off as restless and in need of wandering. Guitars, pianos, walking bass lines, and an almost total lack of percussion, along with Hill’s twangy vocals (which often come with some echoing reverb) provide an atmosphere akin to the wide open spaces that make up the album’s cover art.
Hill’s sound takes a more indie-minded turn in Them Dirty Roads, especially with the insertion of piano ballads like “Fool’s Gold” and his cover of Dave Carter’s “The River, Where She Sleeps.” The cover is especially wonderful with Hill’s choice to stick with piano and what sounds like wine glasses being played with spoons for the accompaniment to his vocals. The song exudes a sense of joy that will prove infectious to anyone.
In a sense, Hill also takes a turn toward classical music in the arrangement of the album. Similar to the way he put four versions of the song “Down In The Valley” in Four Shades of Green to provide cohesiveness to the album, Hill inserts transitional and framing tracks, “Prelude,” “Intermezzo I,” “Intermezzo II,” and “Coda” in Them Dirty Roads. These tracks are generally just a collection of sound effects, though “Prelude” includes a Bach arrangement played on trumpet over the sound of radio static. While normally I might write tracks like this off as superfluous to an album, when taken within the whole album, these tracks give Them Dirty Roads unity and cohesiveness.
Tracks of note are “Fueled Up,” which is very reminiscent of the later work of Johnny Cash, and the aforementioned “The River, Where She Sleeps,” as well as “State of Grace” and “Ribbons and Curls.”
Anyone who appreciates folk, bluegrass, or country should find something to love about Them Dirty Roads. And those who don’t should definitely give it a try as well.
When Andy Werth began playing trumpet in the middle school, he probably didn’t realize that this instrument would be the first of many that he would learn. As a sophomore in high school, Werth started teaching himself piano after hearing some ’50s songs on the radio. And then, as a senior, guitar almost literally fell into his lap.
“I actually picked up guitar because a friend of mine left his acoustic guitar over at my house when he went on vacation, and I began teaching myself,” Werth said.
Werth gradually began writing his own songs, and now, years later, this singer/songwriter and accomplished musician has two EPs under his belt, and a full-length album that has just recently been released. He says now that learning so many instruments helped him grow as a songwriter, especially with writing for his band members.
“You learn how to speak with a different voice, and it unlocks possibilities and new capabilities for writing for others, too,” Werth said.
The new album, called Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass, is a step in a new direction for Werth and his band, because the music is moving away from piano pop-rock into new and varied directions.
“It’s all over the place, which makes it kind of hard to label,” Werth said of the album’s sound.
Werth describes Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass as a grab-bag, but adds that its diversity makes it possible to keep the fans of the EPs happy while also “bringing new people on board.” But it didn’t come easy.
“It was like giving birth to a mountain,” Werth says. “It ended up being very fun, but definitely exhausting.”
With the album out, Werth and his band are now focusing on playing live shows around their hometown of Seattle. Onstage, the musicians consist of two guitarists (one of which also sings backup), a bassist, a drummer, two trumpet players, occasionally different string instruments or saxophone players, and Werth singing and playing piano. In other words, their set is not usually what a concert-goer expects.
“Playing at indie clubs, people see instruments on stage that they don’t normally see,” Werth said.
Because the group is from Seattle, Werth says that there is a lot of competition, but also adds that the wide variety of music coming out of the city is more of a blessing than a burden.
“On any given night [in Seattle] you can hear a DJ, or a jazz concert, or a rock set. The clubs are overflowing with great music from Monday through Sunday. I love to be influenced by lots and lots of different music, especially hearing it live and then incorporating it,” Werth said.
Werth’s personal music taste is also diverse, like his songwriting style and the city he lives in. He listens to jazz, indie, and classical, among other things. And while he’s not rehearsing, writing, editing, or working on lyrics, Werth spends his time reading, writing in journals, enjoying the outdoors, and delighting in all the vegan food Seattle has to offer.
In eight or nine months, Werth plans to head back to the studio to record another album. But, in the meantime, Andy Werth is offering a promotion for Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass: send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject Andy Werth, and you’ll get a code that you can plug in on the homepage of the website that will enable you to download tracks from the new album.