Reviews – Ramblings (2004)

MUSIC ROW MAGAZINE
by Robert K. Oermann

Byron’s nicely textured acoustic song cycle Ramblings…’Love Crazy’, ‘First Fool In Line’, ‘Bad For The Heart’, and ‘Now And Then’…sound an awful lot like hit songs.


TAYLOR GUITARS MAGAZINE
by Andy Robinson
www.taylorguitars.com/news/onreview/byron_hill_ramblings.html

Record producers often say that in order to make a terrific record, one must start with an outstanding song. Byron Hill is an extremely successful songwriter, and might be considered a “go-to” guy for country music producers. Almost 500 of his songs have been recorded by such stellar artists as Reba McEntire, George Jones, Alabama, Kenny Rogers, and the late Ray Charles, and Hill’s work has earned numerous industry honors, including 61 gold and platinum awards. He also produces, publishes, and records music.  Hill’s own 1999 CD, Gravity…And Other Things That Keep You Down To Earth, won unanimous praise from critics. For his new one, Ramblings…, his primary goal was to create an album of favorite songs that reveal his own feelings, thoughts, and beliefs, regardless of whether other artists show interest in recording some of those songs.  Ramblings… is a strong collection. Musicianship throughout the album is excellent, if understated; Hill strums and picks his K14c, front and center, and his rich vocal delivery serves each song well. The songs themselves are varied, with contrasting themes.  “Love Crazy” is a standout cut, with a simple, joyful message about being smitten, while the moody “Cobbtown” paints the lonely picture of a former homecoming king discovering that, over the years, he has faded from the collective memory of a town he remembers in aching detail. Elsewhere, Hill alternately displays a wry sense of humor (“The Only Thing Wrong”) and soaring romanticism (“Wings of Your Love”). “Truckstops, Honky-Tonks, and Cheap Motels” is the album’s closer. It’s a folky tale of an itinerant musician’s life on the road, told with potent and believable imagery.  Country fans will enjoy this CD, and listeners familiar with Byron Hill’s songwriting will not be disappointed. Because of Hill’s emotional investment (not to mention his considerable lyrical and melodic chops), each song rings true, and is destined to be meaningful to many listeners.


VINTAGE GUITAR MAGAZINE
by Steven Stone, Vintage Guitar Magazine

Byron Hill spent the last 25 years 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. One listen to his latest self-produced CD, Ramblings, proves that Hill can not only write great songs but also deliver them on a shiny silver platter.

I reviewed Hill’s last solo release, Gravity, in 2000. It demonstrated that no amount of studio gimmickry or big budget production tricks could improve upon a well-crafted song performed in a straightforward manner. On Ramblings, Hill delivers 14 more musical gems. With co-writers including Tim Krekel, Adam Dorsey, Gary Scruggs, Mike Dekle, Billy Yates, and Odie Blackmon, Hill’s songs combine infectious melodies with pithy lyrics. His musical styles span from country two-steppers such as “Now and Then”, to Western swing on “The Only Thing Wrong” to slow ballads, “I Knew I Loved You”, and borderline novelty tunes such as “Life Will Kill You,” and “Humdinger on Her Finger.” My favorite song on Rambings, “First Fool In Line” features a bittersweet melody coupled to simple lyrics and understated orchestration. The final result gets straight in your heart.

Byron handles all vocals as well as acoustic guitar and flamenco guitar. Pat McGrath, Billy Panda and B. James Lowry cover other guitar parts. Glen Duncan plays mandolin, fiddle, and banjo, Mike Johnson plays dobro and ped-a-bro, Dave Pomeroy plays acoustic bass, and Paul Sholten plays drums and percussion. Mostly recorded during August and September 2004 at the Country Q recording studio, by engineers P.T. Houston and Rob Matson, Ramblings has a fine relaxed sound that doesn’t depend on studio sound effects or artificiality for its power. The sonic emphasis stays on Byron’s voice and the simple acoustic accompaniment.

I wish that more contemporary country music were as finely crafted and direct as the songs on Ramblings. This album could even bring listeners who have abandoned modern country back into the fold.


COUNTRY MUSIC NEWS (Canada)
The Voice Of Country Music In Canada
by Larry DeLaney, December 2004

This time around Byron Hill delivers songs that he likes to sing, and of course he has had his songwriting pen in all of them. Not surprisingly, a lot of this would fall into ‘hit’ category in the hands of some of today’s chart warriors.


COUNTRYCALIFORNIA.COM
by John Maglite

Ramblings subtly embellishes Hill’s sound without distracting from its lyrical focus. A few new sounds enter the mix, most notably drums/percussion and banjo. These additions lend many of the songs an extra propulsive energy that makes this album, on the whole, seem a bit brighter and more up-tempo than Gravity. It’s also a little more melodic and hooky. This means that even if you do find a song like “Humdinger on Her Finger” hopelessly corny, it will probably get stuck in your head anyway.


RAMBLES.NET
Jerome Clark, January 20. 2007

Well, here’s a surprise. That it’s an album of commercial country songs by a successful commercial country songwriter is not the surprise. The surprise is how good this is. Not that commercial country songwriter is a dishonorable profession; think Bob Miller, Floyd Tillman, Harlan Howard, Justin Tubb, Bobby Braddock, Ray Pennington, Tom T. Hall … well, the list goes on and dizzies with pleasant memories. It’s just that over the past couple of decades the Nashville’s Music Row has turned out sludge, mostly. Songwriting there seems little more than a maddeningly incessant recycling of the tried and tired: treacly love songs, jingoistic rants, banal affirmations and good-ol-boy (or -girl) posturing. Sentimentality oozes like a mighty flood of syrup drowning all in its path.  Yet sometimes, when a song is rescued — which is to say placed in an intelligent setting where melody and lyrics are served by something other than rote — one is startled into the realization that at least some of these songs were actually fairly decent when they were written. Nobody who listens to Ramblings will have any problem imagining them fattened into radio-play obesity. On the other hand, Byron Hill’s sharp, electricity-free arrangements lead even the most doubting listener to the unthinkable: yes, the finest commercial writing in Nashville produces songs not conspicuously inferior to the classic compositions that defined country in its golden age.  Ramblings is all Hill songs (most of them co-writes), chosen from his massive catalogue because they were, he explains, among the most personally meaningful. The pleasure is ours. Hill delivers the songs in a dusty baritone that on occasion calls to mind such masters of lyrical intimacy as Merle Haggard and Alan Jackson. The production is cleanly acoustic and crisply orchestral, with guitars, mandolins, harmonicas, drums, dobros and fiddles moving his reflections on life, love true or untrue, and the musician’s lot. Even the unpromisingly titled “Wings of Your Love” soars, however improbably.  The simple word “heart” has been so abused and overused in lazy Nashville writing in the last few years that by now its appearance can induce rashes. And yet Hill’s “Bad for the Heart” is among the most fulfilling pure-country songs I’ve heard this past year. You might say Hill is a hack in the best sense of the word. Maybe a better — certainly more polite — way to express it is this way:  Hill underscores a point that Nashville’s recent history has done all in its considerable power to obscure: that songs can be commercial and meaningful. I can’t say I’d want to hear the cuts on Ramblings done as some pretty-boy hat-act would do them. (Actually, one song here, “Traditions,” hints that Hill wouldn’t either, though presumably he’ll still accept the royalty checks.) But as Hill does them — with soul, sincerity and fabulous pickers — they will knock you out.


THE ADVERTISER (UK)
by Pete Smith, 25 February 2005

Byron Hill “Ramblings” (BHP). Byron Hill is one of Nashville’s finest songwriters. I mean, songs that have claimed 61 gold and platinum and 8 ASCAP awards and hit the number one spot on six separate occasions come only from the pen of someone who is the cream of the crop. Byron’s writing talents have tended to eclipse his great country voice. The 14 new originals see Hill aided and abetted by some of “Music city’s” top acoustic pickers; the ultra talented Glenn Duncan (mandolin, fiddle, banjo), Mike Johnson (Dobro, Ped-A-Bro), Dave Pomeroy (upright bass), Larry Baird, Pat McGrath and James B. Lowry (guitars) and Jelly Roll Johnson (harmonica). Feast your ears on “Like A Country Song” “Bad for The Heart”, “Traditions”, “Truckstops, Honky-Tonks And Cheap Motels” and my particular favourite, “Humdinger On Her Finger”. www.byronhillmusic.com. Album of the Week.


ELGIAN COUNTRY MUSIC ASSOCIATION (OK)
by Pete Smith, 28 February 2005

Byron Hill “Ramblings” (BHP). Take a look at your major label albums, the songwriter’s credits, and a name that appears again and again is Byron Hill. His songs have claimed some 61 gold and platinum and 8 ASCAP awards and have chalked up six number one singles. I have been aware of Byron for some years but did not know what a great voice he has. For these 14 new originals Hill is joined by the cream of Nashville’s acoustic musicians for such wonderful country songs as “Bad for The Heart”, “Traditions”, “Like A Country Song” and totally infectious “Humdinger On Her Finger”. Fiddle, banjo, Dobro, steel. It don’t get more country than this! www.byronhillmusic.com An Album of the Month.


APPALACHIAN STATE UNIVERSITY
by Alison Fosbenner, Staff Writer

If you have heard and enjoy songs by artists such as Alabama, Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers, Toby Keith, Reba McEntire and George Strait, former Appalachian State University student Byron Hill is most likely the musical and lyrical genius behind their hits. From 1971-1973, Hill attended Appalachian State, where he began to play guitar locally and his songwriting strengthened.
“Appalachian was a huge influence on my songwriting,” Hill said. Today, as a songwriter, nearly 500 of Hill’s songs have been recorded. He has received 68 certified gold and platinum albums from the Recording Industry Association of America, eight awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and six No. 1 one singles in the United States and Canada. It doesn’t stop there. Not only does Hill use his talent to write songs for others, but he also performs in Nashville, Tenn., and others areas in the Southeast. His second album, titled “Ramblings,” was released in November 2004. Thirty-three years earlier, at age 17, Hill came to Appalachian. He took a few music courses here but he learned to play mostly from his formal music training. “My main influences while at Appalachian were my friends,” Hill said. He and his fellow Bowie Residence Hall roommate Liston Smith began playing guitar together. Smith introduced Hill to the finger-picking style of guitar playing and to the music of Doc Watson. Soon after, he formed small groups to play in the campus coffee shop (which at that time was on the second floor of Plemmons Student Union), local ski resorts and some nearby bars in Blowing Rock. Hill joined Gene Wooten in 1972 and the two played bluegrass together. They performed frequently at Beech Mountain’s Four Seasons Hotel. Thirty years later, Hill continues to give back to his stomping grounds that helped launch his career with Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) workshops. Cheri S. Maynard, a senior education major, started the Boone regional division of NSAI three years ago. Members meet the first Tuesday of every month. As coordinator, Maynard plans meetings and discussions, and arranges group performances along with her co-coordinator, Greg M. Taylor. For each NSAI workshop, Maynard brings in a professional from Nashville. Hill said these workshops are meant for “groups of songwriters that live in the area to help others’ careers.”  “He’s our hero for songwriting,” Maynard said Hill is currently the vice president of NSAI.
“I feel real good about the route I have taken,” Hill said. “I have stayed true to songwriting.” With so many accomplishments, Hill continues to set goals and now has hopes to win NSAI songwriter of the year and/or a Grammy award. To students with similar aspirations, Hill said perseverance and passion are most important. “Stick with it,” Hill said. “If you’re happy and you love it, success and security will come.” Hill explained that too often we just look at financial aspects. “It’s so important for young people to find happiness,” Hill said. Especially for Appalachian students, “look around, you are so fortunate to live in such beauty,” he said. For anyone interested in joining the Boone NSAI Workshop, meetings are held on the first Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at Living Water Christian Fellowship Church on Boone Heights Drive. Check out www.byronhillmusic.com for more information or to purchase his albums.


WBMZ FM 103.7 THE BOOMER
Metter, GA.

“We received your cd a few days ago and just fell in love with “Cobbtown”.  Even though we’re a classic hits station we’ve found a way to make it fit into our format.  We air “The Steve & DC Show”  weekday mornings and found that to be a great opportunity to give it some air time and all the locals love it.  We’ve played it for lots of friends & I’m sure you’ll get lots of airplay around here.”


THE TATTNALL JOURNAL
Reidsville, GA, by Adam Crisp, Staff Writer

“Interstate Inspiration – Highway sign inspires Nashville songwriters to write about life in Cobbtown….Breeze along the interstate, and names will pop off green signs as fast as the small checks of white paint dart by vehicles. Small towns like Cobbtown blend with the multitude of other little-known exits off Interstate 16. Who takes the time to ponder what small town lies beyond the 70 mph hustle of the big highway?”


UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA
The Daily Tar Heel Online
By Amy Jackson, Staff Writer, November 18, 2004

Hill’s ‘Ramblings …’ offers eerily prophetic title. It must be frustrating to be the songwriter behind the scenes, crafting melodies that will translate into a bunch of successful songs for good-looking stars. Well, enough is enough. Byron Hill is no longer hiding behind writing other people’s hits. Now he’s making his own. Raised in Winston-Salem, Hill started his musical career at the tender age of 10. He attended Appalachian State University and then moved his way up the ladder by contributing his songwriting talents to artists such as Randy Travis and Toby Keith. Hill’s new album is an attempt for him to express his own thoughts and personal feelings instead of doing it for someone else. The first word that comes to mind after 10 seconds of the first song is “twangy.” His personal journey as revealed in Ramblings… is about as country and twangy as it gets. The first two songs on the album, “Love Crazy” and “Cobbtown” are reminiscent of his high school days: Girls and football games are highlighted in these two sappy and oh-so sad songs. Ramblings screams of unhappiness. Look at the titles: “Love Crazy,” “First Fool in Line,” “The Only Thing Wrong” and “Life Will Kill You,” to name a few, This heartfelt album may get a too personal with Hill’s unhappy side of life. Perhaps he resents the fact that he’s writing successful songs for his fellow country music brothers and is not a successful singer himself. Everyone knows that a lot of country music is either really depressing or doesn’t make much sense to those outside the fan base. There’s the poppy country like Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw or Faith Hill, and then there’s everyone else who just want to sing songs about their sad, pathetic lives. North Carolina is well represented in Hill’s Ramblings. Where else would he have gotten the inspiration for the last song on the album, “Truckstops, Honky-Tonks and Cheap Motels”? If that doesn’t make North Carolina proud, then nothing ever will. On a happier note, there’s even a song that was originally recorded by none other than Ray Charles, “The Pages of My Mind.” Hill was inspired to put the song on the album after Charles’ death. The song was a country hit for Charles in 1987, but Hill’s interpretation might not bring home a Grammy. Not all music falls under a specific genre, but really how many broken hearts and high school football games does everyone have to hear about? Country acts should start immortalizing something besides truck stops and a tractor pull.


WILLIAM F. WILLIAMS
Former KRLA Radio Personality, Los Angeles, CA

I’d love to be a song plugger running with these tunes…..these tunes are real country classics…..I’ve been listening, trying to pick my favorite but it’s too hard …..one time through it’s one song and the next time it’s another.

 

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