Byron Hill,
Gravity ... and other things
that keep you down to Earth

(Byron Hill Productions, 1999)

Wow! This is some of the best songwriting I've heard. While this is Byron Hill's first album as a singer, he's been a songwriter for years and his talent and skill are amply demonstrated in Gravity ... and other things that keep you down to Earth, set off by his warm resonant voice.

Hill is a country songwriter, and both the lyrics and the arrangements reflect this. The instrumentation is purely acoustic -- no electric instruments and no drums. A variety of different styles and instruments give a full and rich accompaniment that blends perfectly with Hill's voice and the songs themselves. Gravity... contains some of the best arranging I've heard recently.

I was struck by one difference between Hill's work here, and the work of most folk singer-songwriters: confessional music. Most folk singer-songwriters write determinedly in their own voice, about things in their own lives and those of their friends -- or, at least, that's the impression given! A certain rawness in the lyrics -- a lack of polish -- emphasizes this intimacy. In contrast, Hill is a professional songwriter, writing with skill and polish songs for other people to sing. Is this a lack? I'm not sure, and for me it depends a lot on my own mood. While Hill's songs seem to lack the immediacy of many folk singer-songwriters' work, I'm a great fan of a well-turned phrase and concept, and Hill's work is abundant in these. Hill speaks to the human condition in general, rather than generalizing explicitly from his own life. Whether a song is of fulfilled or failed love, it can help one to know that others have experienced the same things. Perhaps it's less personal in a way; it's also more philosophical.

Love -- happy, puzzling and sad -- is Hill's topic in the 14 songs on this album. (Hill, by the way, writes the lyrics; various other people wrote the music for these songs.) Especially compared to pop music, country's take on love is sophisticated; in pop, love is returned, unrequited, or failed -- and that's the end of it. Country is more inclined to take on the subtleties; ambivalence, the way love changes over time, regrets and longing, the occasional difficulty of happiness and the complications of grief.

Even when love is returned, things can get complicated. "After You're Gone" is a lovely evocation of the horrible insecurity one can feel even in a happy love. What if? we ask ourselves, and we fret. Hill captures this, including the ironies of making oneself miserable when one is happy, and how easy it is to do. In the amusing "Took Her to the Moon" a man is surprised and appalled by his girlfriend's sudden strong nesting behavior. "Love's in the Here and Now" expresses the joy of a newfound love, and "Eyes of Wonder" the joy of an established love that's forever new.

And then there are the sadder songs, including my favorite, "Gravity," in which "I was touching the stars that I once wished upon" once, "But now the earth's rushing back at this heartbroken fool who forgot about gravity." The extended metaphor "physics of love gone wrong" is witty and touching. "Serious Crime" imagines heartbreaking as a criminal offense. "Politics, Religion and Her" are subjects best avoided in conversation, and "You Sure Peeled the Onion" describes a painful time in a relationship using a metaphor as clever, but not as extended, as "Gravity."

Love isn't always either happy or sad, though; sometimes it's mostly complicated. "Hold That Thought" and "Plan B" depict relationships that have broken up for various reasons, but in which there is a hope of renewal. In "Trail of String" the singer has broken up with his love, and now regrets it deeply. On a more hopeful note, "That's What Love Will Make You Do" is about the very beginning and its wild optimism.

The two songs that are not about romantic love are another of my favorites, and my least favorite, songs on the album. "Musical Chairs" uses that children's game as an extended metaphor for life, and I love Hill's skill with extended metaphors! "Thanks for the G Chord" is a song of appreciation to a beloved parent; while warm and somewhat sentimental, it's also the more predictable song on the album.

Besides being attractive and well-suited to the music, the liner contains all the lyrics to the songs! I always appreciate this, since it helps me hear the songs and remember my favorites. It's especially nice when the lyrics are excellent. While I wish they had not been set in all capital letters in a somewhat decorative font, one can still read them. As another nice touch, Hill included a list of the exact instruments and microphones used (although not by songs).

I hope the country sound and lyrics won't prejudice anyone against Gravity.... If it does, they'll miss wonderful songwriting and a strong and well-paced album.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

[ visit the artist's website ]