Listen Up: Wednesday, May 16, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
The Sid Hillman Quartet

The Sid Hillman Quartet — Volume Two (Innerstate Records)

By Matthew Smith

I don’t like country much — give me old blues any day — but this is good stuff. I say so not to offer a backhanded compliment but rather to point out that Sid Hillman makes country for those who otherwise would not care to listen to it or for country fans tired of Nashville’s brainless, Disneyland hit parade.

The nephew of Chris Hillman (Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers), Hillman gained cred on the L.A. alt-country scene a few years ago, gigging around town with just an acoustic guitar and his voice. With Volume Two he fleshes out the sound via full band treatment. Hillman — like Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, and precious few others — strives for Art over image-conscious mass appeal. That energy comes through in his work.

Some of his winsome, relaxed songs here come close to being unforgettable. Can white guys sing the blues? Hillman says yes. Granted, his blues are closer to those of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams than those of Son House, but they’re effective all the same; it’s the lonesome ache in his voice that conjures up all these reference points. Graceful accordion and cello touches enhance the basic guitar-drum foundation. The warm, crisp sound creates an image of a band playing on the back porch of a deserted house, pouring out cathartic, soul-cleansing songs of lost love and busted promise.

Hillman writes in simple terms, but he writes with heart, skipping the cornball hokum and radio-friendly sugar that give most country music such a bad name. Lyrical imagery of clouds, storms, and darkness perfectly place Hillman next to country’s stark forefathers. Opposite him on the country spectrum: Garth.

A mournful, late-night companion of a c.d. with the power to mesmerize even those who wouldn’t be caught dead listening to country, Volume Two is also a good next step for all those O Brother Where Art Thou? bandwagon jumpers.


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