Television Hill,
(Teneral, 2004)

Television Hill is a four-piece band from the Baltimore region, specializing in the kind of Americana that is dark and authentic, while at the same time, dazzling and avant-garde-ish. The debut album, Twilight, sounds like the kind of music a young The Band would be making if they were just starting out today.

Singer, guitarist and chief songwriter Rob Wilson has a voice dripping with emotion -- raw and visceral -- and full of character. Perfectly suited to his tales of heartbreak and loss, it is a voice with power and soul in much the same way as those of Tom Waits and Bonnie "Prince" Billy/Will Oldham.

Wilson's lyrics are fragmentary, phonetic, full of killer lines like "well, I used ta love my whiskey / and I used ta love my wife," lines which say so much in so little. It's the mark of a great writer.

There is a lot of Americana and alt-country out there nowadays, so great, so good, so not so. Musically, Twilight is a revelation.

The opening track, "Jewel of Texas," is epic, foreboding, full of loss. Guest Jennifer Hutt's ominous fiddle adds more than just vibes to this tale of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, one of the deadliest natural disasters in the history of the United States. Told from the perspective of one of Wilson's Irish ancestors who perished in the flood, the song is a cross between a waltz and a reel and a wonderful start to an album.

The band really get eclectic on the third track. A truly vibe-laden experience, "Bamako Express" is based on the story of a train that runs from Bamako, Mali to Dakar, Senegal. On its route through the desert, the train stops occasionally and acts as a market, selling goods through open windows. The African feel of the arrangement and the lyrics make it compelling as well as enjoyable. More recognizably country fare includes "Easy Come, Easy Go," on which Wilson's voice excels, "Fine Fraulein" (with each verse ending in "Aforen my time is afinied") and "All the Tea in China."

It's difficult to pick out highlights because the entire album is very strong. The traditional gospel song "John the Revelator" allows the boys to really rock out and flex their muscles. Featuring brilliant guitar and a call-and-response vocal, this has to be a standout in the live shows. The driving rhythm just propels everything along.

Twilight is a fine debut from a band we will certainly be hearing more from in the not-too-distant future.

by Sean Walsh
28 October 2006

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