The Hillbenders have been a rising young force in the bluegrass/newgrass scene, taking the titles at the 2009 Telluride Bluegrass Band competition and the 2010 National Single Microphone Championship. They’ve been hitting the bluegrass festival scene and livening up events across the country, including locally at Greyfox. Their debut album Down To My Last Dollar was released in 2010.
Your very first thought on hearing the Hillbenders’ sophomore release Can You Hear Me is “Wow! Somebody dug up a long lost New Grass Revival recording!”
Yes, it’s that good… but your ear quickly picks up that this is not just a clone of NGR’s sound; you’ll find Chad Graves’ slick resonator playing first, giving the songs a lilt and a swing. (I had to do some poking around to find out that Chad is not immediately related to Josh Graves, that would have been so appropriate!). When the lead vocals and harmonies come in, you find them a bit different than John Cowan and company… more like your favorite pair of old jeans, well broken in but too comfortable to give up… then the rest of the band comes in and keeps things taut with powerful playing backing all their tunes.
The album opens with “Train Whistle”, which is most like a new addition to the NGR songbook. “Concrete Ribbon” with it’s rock ‘n roll groove and heavy bass along with a soaring resonator will quickly disabuse you from thinking this band is a clone of any other. “Radio” is a somewhat nostalgic look at how radio fits into life and fittingly is the song I would nominate as the most radio-friendly – if you’re not tapping your foot you need your pulse checked 🙂 A little farther down the playlist is “Talking In Your Sleep,” which may call up some vague memories. It’s a cover of The Romantics 1983 hit, same lyrics but the glam replaced by hard driving newgrass. “Spinning In Circles” is a ode to your favorite barmaid and at the same time a paean to everyone that’s stuck just getting by. “Gettysburg” is a mellow instrumental that will give you a little break from the intensity of the rest of the album. “Broken Promises” will again convince you that they’ve kidnapped NGR, (and I’m hoping the ransom doesn’t get paid!) The album closes out with “Game Over” – a gritty broken-heart song.
The band is Mark Cassidy – Banjo, Gary Rea – Bass, Jim Rea – Guitar, Nolan Lawrence – Mandolin, and Chad “Gravy Boat” Graves – Dobro.
Keep your eye on them, they’re taking bluegrass by storm!