Reviews – Gravity (1999)

MUSIC ROW MAGAZINE
by Robert K. Oermann, December 23, 1999

BYRON HILL “Took Her To The Moon”, Writer: Byron/Mark Nesler; Producer: B. James Lowry/Byron Hill; Publisher: Universal- MCA/Brother Bart/Sold For A Song/Glitterfish, ASCAP/SOCAN/BMI; BHP 4501 (Track). The charm of the vocal is equaled only by the splendidly jaunty accompaniment and the totally clever lyric. Give yourself a treat and listen. Album compiling this hit tunesmith’s works is titled Gravity.


TAYLOR GUITARS MAGAZINE – Discover The Indies
by Jim Kirlin, December 1999

After 21 years as a Nashville songwriter, Byron Hill decided to record his own dang album (and in his liner notes thanks his fellow staff writers for not snickering). Hill’s tunes have been recorded by such household names as Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers (“Someone Must Feel Like a Fool Tonight”), Alabama (“Born Country”), Randy Travis, Doc Watson, George Strait (“Fool Hearted Memory”), Asleep at the Wheel (“Keeping Me Up Nights”), Johnny Lee (“Pickin’ Up Strangers”), Sammy Kershaw (“Politics, Religion and Her”), Anne Murray (“Over You”), George Jones (“High Tech Redneck”), and Tracy Byrd (“Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous”). The list literally goes on and on.

Gravity…and other things that keep you down to Earth is a wonderfully warm, pure, organic acoustic “unplugged”country album that eschews slick, pop-in-country-clothing production layers in favor of the mellow, woody richness of acoustic guitar, upright acoustic bass, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, and harmonica. No drums are used; percussive sounds abound in subtler form, in the natural hand slaps against wood and across strings. Hill’s melodic baritone sounds utterly natural, relaxed and timeless, dovetailing smoothly into the instrumentation, giving each sweet melody a wholeness, an eavesdropping intimacy, that sounds as if the band was playing live. Hill also happens to be surrounded musically by some of Nashville’s leading lights: B. James Lowry (acoustic guitar, co-producer), ace bassist David Hungate (founding member of the band Toto); legendary pedal steel/dobroist Sonny Garrish; mandolinist and fiddle player Aubrey Haynie (nominated for Bluegrass Music Association 1998 Fiddle Player of the Year); and Hohner harpmeister Jelly Roll Johnson. These boys all know how to put a shine on a song with one-take chops and intuitive feel. Gravity…distills away the charicatured elements of country music that have misinformed so many people, and celebrates the art of writing simple, compelling songs.


VINTAGE GUITAR MAGAZINE – Acousticville
by Steven Stone, May 2000
Byron Hill-Gravity

Byron Hill has spent the last 21 year in the Nashville songwriter trenches where he’s done work for the likes of Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers, Alabama, Randy Travis, George Strait, Asleep at the Wheel, Sammy Kershaw, Anne Murray, George Jones, and even Doc Watson. He’s also produced Kathy Mattea’s first Mercury Records LP. He has, in short, paid his dues. “Gravity” is a selection of Byron’s material recorded over seven days in August and one day in September of 1998. Sidemen for the project included Aubry Haynie on fiddle and mandolin, David Hungate on acoustic upright bass, Sonny Garrish on dobro, B. James Lowry on acoustic guitar, and Jelly Roll Johnson on harmonica. The songs match the caliber of the musicians. My favorite cut on the CD is “Thanks for the G Chord” which begins with dobro and acoustic guitar doubling on the infectious lead lick. Aubry Haynie’s mandolin fills are also impeccable. Byron Hill’s direct vocal presentation delivers this song with simplicity and elegance. This CD demonstrates that no amount of studio gimmickry or big budget production tricks can improve upon a well-crafted song that is performed in a straight-forward manner. I only wish that more contemporary country music was as honest.


THE FIDDLE & BOW SOCIETY
by Sonny Thomas, March 2000 Issue
BYRON HILL: Gravity…and other things that keep you down to Earth

Byron Hill is a Winston-Salem native who has been working (quite successfully) as a songwriter in Nashville for the last 20 plus years.  His songs have been recorded by George Jones, Johnny Lee, Joe Sun, Juice Newton, George Strait, Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers, and many other top Nashville artists. This is, however, Byron’s first solo album of him doing his own songs, and it’s a very strong debut.

Byron is backed on the album by B. James Lowry on guitar, David Hungate on acoustic bass, Aubrey Haynie on fiddle and mandolin, Sonny Garrish on dobro and Jelly Roll Johnson on harmonica.  The sound is tight and Byron’s vocals are solid as well.  A couple of songs have “hit” written all over them in my book.  “After You’re Gone” and “Hold That Thought”.  But the album is consistently good throughout.  It’s a nice mixture of serious love songs and droll statements on life like the title song and “Politics, Religion and Her”, a list of topics to be avoided in conversation.

Sometimes it is easy to think that the music coming out of Nashville is all posing in tight jeans, cowboy hats, and big egos. Strip the show biz away and you realize how talented some of the songwriters from Music City are.  Byron Hill’s new album is the perfect example of finely crafted songs possessing wit, character and tunefulness presented with excellent musicianship and style.  Highly recommended!


THE LOAFER
by Michael Clark, Kingsport, TN entertainment weekly, May 9, 2000
BYRON HILL: Gravity…and other things that keep you down to Earth

This is an absolutely wonderful album! Byron Hill is a well-known Nashville songwriter and producer, with such tunes as “Lifestyles Of The Not So Rich And Famous”, Politics, Religion And Her”, and “High-Tech redneck” to his credit. With “Gravity…” this former Appy State student has put his North Carolina roots to good use and produced a rich acoustic CD. “Politics” is here along with “Thanks For The G Chord”, previously rendered by Gil Grand. Hill’s warm baritone closely resembles Trace Adkins’, which makes the songwriter’s version of “Took Her To The Moon” included here even more familiar; as a bonus, the song actually works better in this acoustic rendering as Hill’s voice adds a sense of bewilderment to the off-beat tale of love and money. As good as the above tracks are, “Trail Of String”, “Plan B”, and “Serious Crime” are even better. “Trail” is a bittersweet tale of regret, and “Serious Crime” is an upbeat tune of love done dirty that would be perfect for Patty Loveless. “Plan B” is the flip-side (opposite story) of Dave Loggins’ classic “Please Come To Boston”. In Hill’s take, the man waits as plan B while she reaches for the stars in Los Angeles.  Oh, and let’s not forget “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” and “After You’re Gone”. Throughout this excellent disc, Hill’s warm and fuzzy voice enriches the melodies and brings home the content of each song in near-perfect fashion.  This is definitely a deserted island disc, and one that is getting increasing difficult to remove from the CD player.


FOLK & ACOUSTIC MUSIC EXCHANGE
-by Guntram Gudowius , 2000
BYRON HILL: Gravity…and other things that keep you down to Earth

This is one of those recordings where I find myself hitting the repeat button. The songs come across as acoustic country, and are a wonderful example that less can be more – two guitars, upright bass, fiddle, mandolin, dobro and harmonica in different combinations, played by excellent musicians who create sounds perfectly fitting the mood that the lyrics deliver. These are stories of good and bad love, a clever tongue-in-cheek account of how a relationship can change not only your life, but your surroundings, facts of life with the metaphor of “musical chairs,” and salty water dripping from every line of a (satirical) tear jerker with the befitting title You Sure Peeled The Onion”.


COUNTRY STANDARD TIME
by Clarissa Sansone, April/May 2000
Byron Hill: Gravity…and other things that keep you down to Earth, 1999 (BHP)

Nashville songwriter Byron Hill once said he “wanted to write songs that were commercial.” He succeeded. The likes of George Jones, Sammy Kershaw, Tracy Byrd, Trace Adkins, Kenny Rogers and other big names have recorded Hill’s tunes. His latest effort is an album of originals backed by a solid group of country and bluegrass musicians. The first song, “After You’re Gone,” is also the album’s finest. Delivered with thoughtful dispassion, Hill’s lyrics are complemented by a spare guitar and understated bass slaps. Songs like “Trail of String” and “Love’s in the Here and Now” are jazz-like, featuring a wistful harmonica solo and sweet fiddle backup, respectively. Hill excels at a kind of lyrical enjambment that causes songs to become entangled in one’s mind, which isn’t so bad with a tune like “Gravity,” but which can become downright annoying with lyrically sentimental pieces like “Plan B” and “Thanks for the G Chord” – the latter being the kind of overtly commercial fare that emerges in souped-up form from Nashville recording assembly lines. Compared to the calculated catchiness of some of the lyrics and the ease with which the musicians play, Hill’s voice is probably the least sophisticated component of the album. Yet it is also one of the most enjoyable.


COUNTRY MUSIC NEWS (Canada)
by Larry Delaney, Country Music News, February 2000

Byron Hill has been penning some of Nashville’s top hits for the past two decades, including winners for many of Canada’s top acts, from Anne Murray to recent success with Gil Grand (Hill also produced Grand’s Famous First Words debut album).  Now after all these years, he steps to the forefront with his own debut album…and not surprisingly it is filled with musical gems.
It is always interesting to hear the creator of a song sing his own compositions as they were first envisioned.  On Gravity we have ‘Byron Hill interpreting Byron Hill’, and that’s a treat in itself.  Hill has an ultra-mellow vocal delivery, and smooches his way through these tunes surrounded in a pure ‘acoustic’ environment.  Some of the songs will be familiar, like Took Her To The Moon included on recent albums by Trace Adkins and Mark Nesler; Politics, Religion And Her a Top 30 single in 1996 for Sammy Kershaw; and Thanks For The G-Chord, a marvelous song that has somehow remained buried on Gil Grand’s excellent album. There’s also some ‘hits-in-the-waiting’ here and it’s likely only a matter of time before some hot Nashville act clues into surefire material like Musical Chairs (a statement song if there ever was one); the caustic Plan B, and a genuine tear-jerker in You Sure Peeled The Onion…and the real prize is a bluesy After You’re Gone. “Now, after all these years, he steps to the forefront with his own debut album…and not surprisingly it is filled with musical gems.”  -LD


BRITISH COUNTRY MUSIC ASSOCIATION (BCMA) MAGAZINE
by Jim Marshall, April 2000 Issue

Were it not for the fact that British songwriter, Tony Hiller, contacted us for a list of UK country radio shows, we may never have heard this truly excellent album, by Nashville-based singer and writer, Byron Hill, and that would have been our loss. Hiller himself is co-writer on four of the tracks here and the whole self-produced CD just reeks of quality.  Over the past 21 years, Hill has written for George Strait, George Jones, Sammy Kershaw, Kenny Rogers, Doc Watson, Ray Charles and a whole host of other top names making one wonder why his own vocal talents have taken so long to emerge. With a voice sounding like a cross between Guy Clark and Don Williams at their peak, Byron Hill is certainly a welcome addition to the singer/songwriter scene.


SING OUT! MAGAZINE
by John Lupton
Vol. 44, #3 Spring 2000

Byron Hill is a country singer with an interesting voice that invites, and sometimes commands attention. It’s a deep baritone that occasionally bottoms out in the bass regions, suggesting comparisons with the likes of major country stars like Alan Jackson and George Strait. It’s a good enough voice to make him a star in Nashville, and there are plenty of arena-filling acts hat acts who can’t sing as well as he does. What really sets Gravity apart, though, is that it’s a solid mainstream country album that gets by without any of the production cliches that Nashville relies on these days. No electric guitar power chords.  No crashing drums. No string sections. No Stetsons even. Working with acoustic guitars, mandolin, fiddle and dobro, Gravity is so retro that even the bass is a stand-up acoustic doghouse. This alone makes it a refreshing change of pace. Of course the fact that Hill co-produced the disc and released it on his own BHP label probably has a lot to do with this.

All fourteen songs on the album were co-written by Hill with a cast of collaborators that includes veteran Nashville writers like Tony Hiller and Tony Martin, and on the whole, it’s material that is sometimes amusing, sometimes thought provoking, and generally worth paying attention to, even though all but one of the songs are romantic ballads of one sort or another – good love, bad love, lost love, found love, wistful love, desperate love. And, come to think of it, the one exception (“Thanks For The G Chord”, the album’s closing track) deals with parental love.  All pretty well done, but it would have been nice to have a little more variety in the subject matter and theme.  Still, on cuts like “After You’re Gone” (with it’s sultry echoes of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown”), “Took Her To The Moon” and “Serious Crime”, Byron Hill shows signs of being the kind of distinctive country talent that Nashville should be (but sadly, is not) rushing to record. Maybe Gravity will catch the attention of one of the major labels, and maybe Hill will end up as just another country-flavored rock singer, but it would be a shame if he didn’t do another album like this. – JL


MAXIMUM
by George Olsen, March 29 2000
(George Olsen is the local host for “Morning Edition” on Public Radio East, NPR News and Classical Music, at 89.3, 90.3, and 91.5-FM. “Morning Edition” is heard weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Visit the Web site at www.publicradioeast.org)

So many songs Byron Hill has penned hits for a host of country stars. In my mind, the genesis of any artistic creation I might come up with would forever be burned into my brain. But put the question of the origins of the song “Took Her To the Moon” (best known for it’s recording by country music star Trace Adkins) to it’s co-writer, Winston-Salem native Byron Hill, and there’s a long pause. “I’m trying to remember on that. I can’t really remember. I’d like to tell you who gets credit for what, but … I really can’t remember how that one came about. I just remember a really long day of work on it. That really sticks in my mind.” In all fairness, Hill forgetting the exact moment of inspiration on a song here or there isn’t too surprising given the sheer volume of songs he’s written in a near-25-year career in Nashville. George Jones, Randy Travis, Doc Watson, Kenny Rogers, George Strait, Alabama, Ray Charles, Reba McEntire, Conway Twitty, Anne Murray — they’re a handful of the country music glitterati who have recorded Hill’s music. And now, after watching the spotlight shine on the artists who’ve recorded his music, he’s hoping to steal a bit of the attention with the release of his own CD “Gravity … and other things that keep you down to Earth.” “Gravity” features, obviously enough, 14 compositions penned by Hill and his various partners. But it’s just a tiny fraction of Hill’s compositional catalog, and deliberately so. “What I like to do out of my catalog of songs is a pretty narrow little slice of what I do as a writer. The kind of things I can pull off as a singer and as a performer is a little quirkier. It’s the kind of thing that a lot of artists don’t really want to pick up on. The kind of songs I like to do as a performer are maybe almost like character songs. I enjoy stepping into those characters that another artist may not really like to put himself into.” His affinity for those character songs shows. The aforementioned “Took Her to the Moon” is a good example. Hill’s understated vocals accompanied by spare acoustic instrumentation bring out the tongue-in-cheek humor of the song — humor which got buried in the big-time country production of Adkin’s version. “Politics, Religion and Her” is the only other song on “Gravity” covered by a recognizable country name, Sammy Kershaw. And though I haven’t heard Kershaw’s version, it’s hard to believe he could get across the heartbreak-handled-through-humor found in “Politics, Religion and Her.” While “Gravity” puts the focus solely on Hill, he’s still a Nashville songwriter first and foremost. While discussing the love song “Eyes of Wonder,” he trails off for a moment to express his wish to somehow get the song to Willie Nelson. And in remembering the circumstances behind “Fool-Hearted Memory,” the first number one single for George Strait, he pauses long enough to hope for another chance at a Strait cut.
Still, while he itches for another shot at a number one single with a major country artist, there are other satisfactions along the way, like having legends deem his material worthy of putting their name on it. “The Ray Charles cut … (“The Pages of My Mind,” the title track from a Columbia recording in 1986) it just came totally out of the blue. Chet Atkins had told me years ago he liked the song a lot. In fact, he sent me a letter early on in my career saying how much he liked that song, and knew it would be a hit for someone. My parents still have that letter hanging on a wall in North Carolina. I sort of feel the same way about Doc Watson. Doc Watson is just such an icon to me and to folk instrumentalists. It just really thrilled me to get the Doc Watson cut (“Sadie” from a 1981 Flying Fish label recording called “Red Rocking Chair”). Those cuts don’t earn a lot of money for a songwriter, but it’s just the kind of thing you like to hang on the wall. You feel, just having this on your list of cuts — I can quit now.” It’s doubtful that will happen any time soon. First things first — there’s a song Byron would like Willie Nelson to hear.


BILLBOARD MAGAZINE, Sept. 9, 2000
By Deborah Evans Price
Interview with John Michael Montgomery

“The Little Girl” isn’t the only song on the forthcoming album he’s excited about.  He’s particularly fond of a tune called “Thanks For The G Chord”, which he says reminds him of his father.
“My dad was a musician. He loved it and wanted to be in the same place I am today”, says Montgomery. “Obviously, it didn’t happen for him, but if it wasn’t for him and my mom, I wouldn’t be here…That song says everything. I feel like it was written about me. Everything in there I can relate to so closely. For personal reasons, it may be my favorite one on the whole album”-John Michael Montgomery


CDNOW
By Brian Mansfield, Senior Editor, Country
Interview with John Michael Montgomery

“Like…. “Thanks For The G Chord,” ….if I ever meet the guy that wrote that song … I felt like it was written about me. I mean, my first car was an old blue Ford when I turned 16 and stuff. That could be my favorite song on the album. I just never felt like I said thank you to my father enough for everything he’d done for me, especially being my father. I think he was the greatest father in the world — he was my best friend; he taught me how to be an entertainer and play guitar. There’s so many things that I know I just didn’t thank him about, and this song here just knocked me backwards when I heard it … Will it be a single? I don’t know. When I first started, I tried to find 10 hit songs. Now, I just try to make an album that has some character and has a little theme. Everything kind of fits together a little bit more, instead of just throwing 10 songs that could be radio hits on there.”-John Michael Montgomery

 


COUNTRY WEEKLY
By Gerry Wood and Larry Holden, Oct. 17, 2000
Interview with John Michael Montgomery

One of the album’s songs “Thanks For The G Chord”, hits close to home.  “For personal reasons, that may be my favorite song on the album,” he notes.  “When I heard it the first time, I thought, ‘Somebody wrote this about my life!'” The lyrics parallel John Michael’s Kentucky upbringing and his love for his father, who died of cancer in 1994. “The song talks about having an old Ford.  Daddy gave me a 1972 blue Ford Torino when I turned 16. I had such a strong relationship with my father who was also a musician. So this song struck a personal chord with me.”


MOUNTAIN WEST MUSIC
by Laurie Paulik (for CountryCharts.com)

“Less is more” once again proves true in Gravity a new acoustic offering by Byron Hill. The CD comprises 14 numbers by Nashville producer/songwriter Hill, whose writing credits include such numbers as Johnny Lee’s “Picking Up Strangers,” George Strait’s first #1 hit, “Fool Hearted Memory,” Alabama’s “Born Country,” Tracy Byrd’s “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous,” and George Jones’ “High Tech Redneck.” Hill’s deep, warm baritone is immediately inviting. Sit back, relax, and mellow out as he spins superbly crafted tales of remorse, betrayal, emotional debt, love gone right, and love gone bad. The album’s first cut, “After You’re Gone,” has an almost Gordon Lightfoot sound and feel, conveying the disquieting turmoil of a man afraid to trust that love will last. A mandolin introduces the jaunty “Took Her to the Moon.” Flowers, fishing magazines, toilet seat covers, bed spreads and other articles of everyday life frame this amusing, sometimes quizzical tale. Hill then croons out a “feeling blue” tune, “Trail of String,” followed by the mid-tempo title cut, “Gravity”, which, as Hill cleverly notes in the song, is about the “physics of love gone wrong.” A wide range of emotions unfold in the following three numbers: the tender “Eyes of Wonder,” wistful “Hold That Thought,” and joyful “That’s What Love Will Do.” “Musical Chairs,” one of the best numbers on the album, likens love, work, and life in the spotlight to the children’s game of musical chairs. “Politics, Religion and Her,” penned in 1996 by Hill, was released as a single by Sammy Kershaw. Hill’s take on the tune, dramatically different than Kershaw’s stone cold country approach, illustrates the power and magic to be found in different artists’ individual interpretations of the same piece. The album closes with “Thanks for the G Chord,” in which Hill pays moving tribute to his father’s love and influence.  Gravity combines the best of “New Age” sensitivity and down home country simplicity. Its sparse, acoustic sound is a welcome respite from the wealth of over-produced albums issued on Music Row today.


COUNTRYCALIFORNIA.COM
by John Maglite

Hill’s warm, workmanlike voice – which often recalls Don Williams – wraps itself around songs about love in all its various phases. Sometimes, he’s falling head over heels – looking at his lover through “Eyes of Wonder,” marveling at his own giddiness (“That’s What Love Will Make You Do”), or realizing that his days of searching are over (“Love’s in the Here and Now”). More often, he plays the confounded and the left-behind. He wishes he had left a “Trail of String” when he walked out on her, dreams of locking a cheater up for her “Serious Crime,” goes into a post-breakup nosedive on “Gravity”…..Throughout, the instrumentation is tastefully sparse, a mix of acoustic guitar, upright bass, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, and harmonica in which every note means something and the playing is sharp but never showy. The music accents rather than overshadows Hill’s smart, unadorned lyricism and natural sense of melody. It might not be great driving music, but it’s perfect for a lazy day in the hammock.


SMALANDS COUNTRY CLUB
Vimmerby, SWEDEN, by Christer Sjöblad, 2001

Many times you hear a song, like it, like the artist, but you don´t think about who the songwriter is. Of course the real country fans do, but maybe not “normal” people. Behind every song is a writer, but he usually doesn´t get the credit he deserves. One of these persons is Byron Hill. I guess that many people who reads this now hasn´t heard of Mr. Hill before, but he has recorded a Cd and written songs for many famous Nashville artists. We at SCC-Nytt (our paper) feel that this great writer deserves to be written about in our paper. Byron is born in Atlanta, Georgia but grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. When he was about 10 years old he learned some Carter Family tunes on his guitar with a little help from his dad. Byron’s life was then changed when he heard Johnny Cash sing Kris Kristofferson’s classic “Sunday Morning Coming Down” for the first time, this made that Byron now was one with country music. He also enjoyed to listen to Roger Miller & “Hag” among others. During his college time at the university i Boone, N.C. Byron started to try and wrote songs. After some time he got to perform at so called “coffee houses” at the college and finally 1975 Byron got a agreement with ATV music in Nashville, he later moved to Music City 1978. In 1981 Johnny Lee got a No. 1 hit with “Picking Up Strangers”, that was Byron first No. 1 song that he wrote. The year after that he got another No. 1 hit when George Strait recorded “Fool Hearted Memory”. Now everybody wanted to record Byron Hill songs, some hit songs that now was recorded were: “Nights” recorded by Ed Bruce, “Born Country” by Alabama & he even wrote hit songs for Kenny Rogers & Anne Murray. Byron got to produce Kathy Mattea’s first album that was released on Mercury. 1992 Byron got a contract with MCA and the hit songs just kept a comin´. For example: “Lifestyles Of The Not So Rich & Famous ” for Tracy Byrd, “High-Tech Redneck” for George Jones, “Politics, Religion & Her” recorded by Sammy Kershaw and “If I Was A Drinkin´ Man” that was a hit for Neal McCoy. Other country artists who´ve recorded songs written by Byron include: Keith Whitley, Tanya Tucker, Gary Allan (he has even helped to produce Garys Cd´s), Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, Conway Twitty and Mark Wills. Yes the list can go on forever. In 1998 Byron signed a contract with Starstruck Writers Group (that was sold to Warner Music Group in Oct.-2000). Right now he´s active with writing songs for Toby Keith and John Michael Montgomery will record a Hill song on his next Cd; “Thanks For The G Chord”. Byron has released an own Cd with 14 songs on his own label. “Gravity & Other Things That Keep You Down To Earth”. On it he sings some new songs he´s written with the help of very good musicians. They include: B James Lowry (guitar), David Hungate (bas), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle & mandolin), Sonny Garrish (dobro) and Jelly Roll Johnson (harmonica). This is a good CD that really deserves to be in every country fans collection. Many times famous songwriters sing their own songs, but usually they´re not so good, but Byron here is REALLY a good singer! So if you find this Cd you should buy. Most of the best Nashville artists have already recorded a Byron Hill song. So remember the name.

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