The Hillbenders

Can You Hear Me?

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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.

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