Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Great pickers and big time entertainers. If you're not moving while the 'Benders are playing, there's something wrong with you." - Bluegrass Today "They have honed their sound razor sharp with super tight harmonies and solid musicianship." - Prescription Bluegrass Since forming in 2008, The Hill Benders have been winning over audiences from coast to coast with their unique style, original compositions and relentless drive. Claiming the championship title at the 2009 Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition helped put the band on the map, and their recent victory at the National Single Microphone Championships proved that they are a force to be reckoned with. The Hill Benders have become a must-see act with repeat appearances at some of the country's premiere music events including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, RockyGrass, Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, International Bluegrass Music Association's Fan Fest, Walnut Valley Festival and many more. Can You Hear Me? is a powerful mix of original music and unique covers which showcases the band's vocal diversity and instrumental virtuosity. Austin-bred mandolin player Nolan Lawrence provides the group's distinctive soulful, blues-tinged vocals while California-born banjoist Mark Cassidy, cousins guitarist Jim Rea and bassist Gary Rea with dobroist Chad "Gravy Boat" Graves are all called on to contribute lead and harmony vocals as well as scorching instrumental solos. Stand-out tracks include the kick off track "Train Whistle" with its infectious groove reminiscent of New Grass Revival, the funky and high energy "Concrete Ribbon" and the evocative dobro-led instrumental "Gettysburg."
Personnel: Jim Rea (guitar); Chad Graves (dobro); Mark Cassidy (banjo); Nolan Lawrence (mandolin).
Recording information: Mountainside Audio, Nashville, TN.
Photographer: Christina Rea-Willard.
The Hillbenders are a bluegrass-style band, and while their close harmonies and acoustic instrumentation make them sound like folkies at first, on a closer listen they sound more like a pop band that happens to play in a traditional style. The songs are mostly about love, but lyrically they're more pop, as is their harmony singing, which isn't a bad thing, but it's just not what bluegrass aficionados expect when they put on an album. Their cover of the Romantics' "Talking in Your Sleep" is a case in point; the instruments sound country, but they sing with a rock & roll attitude that adds another dimension to their music. Quibbles aside, Can You Hear Me? is still a smooth ride that showcases the band's sharp instrumental work and fine songwriting skills. The midtempo "Spinning in Circles" bemoans the pain often encountered in the quest for fame. Nolan Lawrence perfectly sums up the frustration of many young artists when he sings "I try to sing like my heroes but will anybody ever wanna sing like me?" The blues-rock melody of "Game Over" gives the tune a bit of extra punch, with the band's call and response on the closing choruses giving the song a rowdy, swaggering feel. "Broken Promises" is a bad man ballad with a psychological slant most tunes never approach. The singer took the fall for a bank job 25 years ago and never ratted out the rest of the gang, but now he's out of jail and planning his revenge. It's a midtempo tune, with Lawrence bringing a quiet intensity to the tale as he sings "Those memories don't fade to black/Tonight they're going to burn. The album's two instrumentals couldn't be more different. "Clutch" is an old-fashioned bluegrass jam taken at a breakneck pace with plenty of tricky starts and stops to let the band show off its instrumental prowess. "Gettysburg" is slower and more melodic, a lyrical piece with a cinematic feel. It could easily provide the soundtrack for a scene full of falling leaves and lost lovers wandering through a desolate landscape, before it breaks out into a jaunty rave-up for the last minute. ~ j. poet