Canadian axeman expands his up-close-and-personal operation to a full-blown all-inclusive, if individual, extravaganza,
“Gotta be strong and carry on,” proclaimed Steve Hill a few years ago on the inaugural volume of his “Solo Recordings” – and that’s what this artist has been doing ever since. Although to cook smoking blues on one’s own in a studio and to stand all alone in front of a concert hall are two different things, Hall’s able to pull both off with aplomb and verve, as documented on the Montreal musician’s first live album. A testament to Steve’s perseverance, it’s also a document of his inspired approach to the art of public performance.
Yes, the unhurried, harmonica-caressed grace of “Nothing New” may suggest the lack of originality in the Canadian’s method, and the choice of “Voodoo Child” for a finale could confirm such a suspicion if not for the fierceness it’s infused with, yet in this genre tradition is a major part of what makes it all special. The racket Steve’s evoking here should defy his solo stance, but there’s no escaping from the frantic, fantastic take on Little Walter’s “Hate To See You Go” or from “Go On” whose insistent heaviness will reflect Hill’s resolve.
Steve sets up the groovy agenda with “Rhythm All Over” and wraps his roar in a raw throb of instrumental foil that’s polished by a slider’s blistering action, as lyrical staples fall by the wayside to nail riffs to the floor, while his dynamic drift is laid out most impressively in “The Collector” where a lapse in the middle helps Hill sound like a man possessed. Even the quieter drive behind “Damned” can’t pacify the demons which render the drums-free “Tough Luck” eerie and make crowd’s hair stand on end, albeit it’s the epic passages of “Never Is Such A Long Time” that are be the pinnacle of this concert.
Still, “The Ballad Of Johnny Wabo” – a piece venting Steve’s woes in Toronto – is more engaging, especially when Hill picks up the pace to tap in the heart of sympathy with all the brilliance only a genuine master of style-shifting one-man ensemble can muster. A riveting recording from an artist who’s destined to be huge.