Adam Hill‘s Two Hands, Tulips is the fourth folk release of Hill’s that has crossed my desk. Nate Williams raved about the first two (which Hill released under his own name), I put in a good word for the collaborative Magrane Hill release, and now I’m about to say great things about this one. That consistency should be as strong a selling point as the following words.
Even without that context, I would heartily recommend this album. Since Hill played every instrument and collected every bit of found sound, the album is an incredibly coherent statement. Hill weaves in radio clips, found performances and other noise throughout the album; some sounds are given their own interludes (“Sarabande I,” “For Me and My Gal,” “Sarabande II”) while others add context and emotive power to the bigger songs (“Dust Disease,” “Raleigh and Spencer,” “He Calls That Religion”). Josh Caress’ Letting Go of a Dream, my favorite album that I’ve ever discovered through Independent Clauses, uses this idea skillfully as well–so I’m totally excited about this idea. While Hill aims less for the romantic side of things with the tactic than Caress, the emotional impact of the interludes is similar between the two albums.
Hill stays lyrically in folk-singer mode for much of Two Hands, Tulips, protesting fake pastors (“He Calls That Religion”), poor working conditions for miners (“Dust Disease), and other doomed characters (“These Vignettes”). When he takes a break from that, it’s for a couple well-placed lovelorn songs (“French Films,” “The Train That Carried My Girl From Town”).
Musically, Hill primarily gives us folk and country; since he’s gotten good at it, why change it up? His confident, reedy tenor meshes naturally with his acoustic guitar. Tunes like “With Wistful Glances” and “Dust Disease” just work; everything comes together for a satisfying tune. It’s the sound of experience meeting hard work, and I love it.
When he does take risks, the results are mixed. The dramatic mood and arrangement of “These Vignettes” doesn’t make it the highlight of the album, but it’s still a good song. “CLQK” is a quiet fingerpicker cluttered by extraneous zooming found sound, while “She Heard a Sound” is a gypsy folk tune that doesn’t fit on the album at all (and since it’s second-to-last, it’s easy to ignore). Still, it’s nice to hear an artist clearly exercise the skills that have become a comfort zone (to the listener’s benefit!) as well as experiment a bit.
Adam Hill knows his way around a folk tune, and he knows it. Hearing him press his boundaries while exerting his strengths makes for a very enjoyable album of folk. Fans of troubadour strummers like Johnny Flynn and Justin Townes Earle should take note.