Adam Hill – Four Shades of Green
Simple, thoughtful bluegrass.
Let’s face it: one-man-bands can be really hard to pull off. There can occasionally be one or two instruments that just suffer because the musician just doesn’t have a grasp for it. Luckily, Adam Hill of Portland, Ore., shows stellar musicianship and songwriting with his one-man-bluegrass album Four Shades of Green.
With obvious inspirations from traditional bluegrass, folk and gospel, Hill weaves together a string of originals that exude the joys and sorrows of everyday life.
From guitar, bass and rhythm to mandolin, banjo, fiddle, trumpet and trombone, Hill manages to impress with his wide range of skills. He’s technically not the only person on the album, since a couple of tracks feature the voices of the Dekum Deck Choir, but close enough. The only instrument that doesn’t quite fit is his own voice, sounding more like it belongs in a pop-punk band rather than a bluegrass band. However, this gives the music a unique quality and gives it a particularly more indie sound.
Hill takes an interesting route throughout the album. He continually returns to instrumental tracks, four in all, that are all named “Down In The Valley.” Each is a different version of the same essential melody, first with fiddle, then guitar, then banjo and finally, finishing the album, with the choir. These give the album a very nice cohesiveness and also give some hint at its title, Four Shades of Green, by having four “shades” of the same tune.
Hill obviously has an affinity for twangy vocals, taking many opportunities to belt out. “Next Stop, Winona,” is especially fun to sing along to as Hill sings about that old bluegrass/folk/country standby, a train ride.
Hill’s songwriting style lends itself to the musical style. His lyrics and arrangements are simple and about everyday life. It gives the album a certain reassuring quality that makes you feel like everything is right in the world.
Standout tracks include the aforementioned “Next Stop, Winona,” as well as “Beulahland.” “Portland Winter Blues” is especially interesting due to its heavy influence from early Dixieland jazz.
I really enjoyed “Banks of the Ohio,” though it regularly distracts me. The melody and chord progression of the song in certain portions are remarkably similar to Ewan MacColl’s “Dirty Old Town,” which has been made popular by The Pogues and other Celtic bands. It’s not really a bad thing and most people wouldn’t pick up on it, but it distracted me from the song.
All in all, Four Shades of Green is an extremely solid effort for one musician to think up and record by himself. The world could always use more talented musicians like him.