Suspicions that Hill could be typecast by his freakish prowess as a ukulele player are swept aside. Impeccably crafted. ★★★★½. - The Australian
Hill has come into his own as a songwriter... He's obviously got a big heart as well as nimble hands. - Penguin Eggs
Stellar. A fantastic album from a man who makes songwriting seem effortless. - Exclaim!
What Hill has achieved here is to take the uke beyond its usual territory, where it is either being frantically strummed in a self-consciously comic manner, or plucked with unnecessary gravitas in an effort to counteract its mirth-inducing reputation. Hill gives the uke its dignity back, but without ever taking himself – or the instrument – too seriously. The result is an album with superb lightness of touch. - Songlines
Lyrics are always a benchmark for me, and the writing on this CD is topnotch. - Craig Robertson, Ukulelia.com
Hill proves he has an inventive ear for arrangements as well as a great talent for song writing. If you fancy a fun and easy going laid-back album which has a good balance of humour and contemplation then you can’t go far wrong with this. - Folk Radio UK
An album for troubled times: joie de vivre, tenderness and musical perfection. - TRAD Magazine
Worlds are about to collide. With the release of Man With a Love Song, James Hill, who has earned a reputation as Canada’s foremost – indeed one of the world’s foremost – players of the often-underestimated ukulele, stands poised and ready to take his place in the ranks of today's best young songwriters.
Hill stands poised and ready to take his place in the ranks of today's best young songwriters.
Barely into his 30s, Hill has already made a career out of knocking worlds against each other. His technical prowess on ukulele is achieved through attacking what is mostly regarded as a lowly folk instrument with the seriousness and nuance of technique usually associated with the highest levels of virtuosity on, say, classical violin or piano. His entertaining and unpredictable solo concerts have a world-wide audience that would be envied by many wannabe rock stars and his inspirational music seminars have made him something of a ukulele-based motivational speaker. Anyone lucky enough to have seen one of Hill’s recent live shows might also be familiar with his hip-hop influenced forays into heavily percussive, beat-driven prepared-ukulele “sound sculptures”: John Cage meets Chalmers Doane via Kid Koala.
But just when you may have thought you’d seen all possible surprises from Hill, just when you may have thought, through his powers as an instrumentalist, he had doomed himself to working up ever-faster renditions of “Flight of the Bumblebee,” comes a landmark record: Man With a Love Song. Ukulele World: shake hands with Songwriter World.
There were hints of what this record would turn out to be in 2009’s collaboration with cellist Anne Janelle: True Love Don’t Weep. That record saw Hill stretch his chops as a vocalist and, on three original tunes, songwriter. But whereas True Love Don’t Weep (which won a Canadian Folk Music Award) was a further impressive footstep forward in the career of an increasingly ambitious musician, Man With a Love Song is a quantum leap, a Star Trek transporter trip in which Hill has propelled himself to a whole new level, a whole new realm.
The central astounding fact of this album, the seat of this record’s power, is the poetry of the lyrics.
It took Hill twenty-odd years to climb to the top of ukulele mountain as an instrumentalist, but here, seemingly in a single blast, Hill’s songwriting has grown to rival his prowess as a musician. Multiple factors come together on Man With a Love Song to make such superlative work: the generosity of this record: 14 tracks, all original. The rock-solid musicianship of Hill and his collaborators. The clear strength of Hill’s singing voice. The playful breadth of the styles in which Hill has chosen to write (from the soulful big-band jazz of “What Would You Have Me Do?” through the barrelhouse-bluegrass of “Hand Over My Heart” and impeccable barbershop of “Lying In Wait” to the spoken-word-and-junkyard-percussion of “Soap and Water”).
But the central astounding fact of this album, the seat of this record’s power, is the poetry of the lyrics. The songs are full of wordplay and clever turns of phrase: “This dollar is an old-fashioned hell / A kink in the hose to the diving bell / I’m as rich as a thief in a deep wishing well…” There is great humour here: “You can’t trust a man with a love song / You don’t know how many lips that tune has been on.” There is rich imagery: “Whale in the deep blue / Elephant white / An arachnid clambering up a brass pipe / Like eyes in the jungle / That see through the night / Our love is lying in wait.” But most importantly of all, there is an honest poet’s voice in these words, unafraid to confront personal vulnerability and personal pain. The pain and vulnerability of these songs however, is not raw pain and vulnerability.
There was a time I was so young
The little voice inside me carried a gun
Those were the days I couldn’t lose
The only thing that didn’t dare come near me was the blues
But you should see me now
You’d barely recognize me my own true love.
Hill has not given us sophomoric weepiness, but a hard-won wisdom, which is what makes this record seem like the work of a much more seasoned songwriter.
Hill has not given us sophomoric weepiness, but a hard-won wisdom.
It takes guts to do what Hill has done here. The difference between playing musical notes, which he has done for the bulk of his artistic life, and singing words – especially words that one has written oneself – is that musical notes can suggest ideas and moods, but in and of themselves, they are devoid of literal meaning. Words carry the world inside them, and it is impossible for an honest artist to put words on a page, or in a song, without revealing a hitherto-hidden piece of self.
A virtuoso instrumentalist, which Hill has been up to now, especially a young virtuoso, especially a young virtuoso on a maligned and under-respected instrument, can make a career out of having something to prove. A songwriter, on the other hand, must have something to say. The James Hill we get to see in the songs of Man With a Love Song has said plenty and said it eloquently.
This is an exciting moment for the ukulele. A major songwriter has used the instrument to make an important record. This is also an exciting moment for songwriting in Canada. A powerful new voice has emerged.
Worlds have collided. Worlds are colliding. Worlds are about to collide.
- Leo McKay (April, 2011)
Man With a Love Song would not have been possible without the generous support of many fans, friends and family members who pre-ordered the CD. Money received from the pre-orders helped to finance the many costs of production including studio rental, mixing, mastering, artwork, photography, website design and video production. My heartfelt thanks to all of the following supporters and to all those who pre-ordered at the "Helping Hand" level!
Anonymous, Lori Apthorp, Kevin Birkbeck, Jeannie Ceciliani, Rich Dann, Doug Frink, Dianne Geddes, Ruth Golden, Julie Kataoka, Rich Knowles, Janet Lenore, Eve Goldberg and Ellen Long, Laurie McNabb, Mary Mitchell, Steven Morin, Kimberley and Dan Reagan, Geoffrey Rezek, Elaine Shelby, Carol Bontrager Wagers, Rebecca Woo, Larry Yager.
Vikki Armstrong, Michael Black, Dee Dee Cross, Eileen Cuba, Vicki Daley, Anne Janelle, Dorthe Davison, Christine Dennison, Joanne Does, Angela Dwyer-James, Pam Elder, Louis Dumas, Barb Farran, James Fellows, Chris Finn, Homer Frizzell, Dona Gibbs, Richard Gillmann, Christine Gilmour, Brenna Hardy-Kavanagh, Susan Hayden, Mike and Brenda Henderson, Stu "UkuleleStu" Herreid, Ralph Holmes, Susan Howell, Dick Jeffers, Jimmy the Uke, the Kearns family, Tim Keough, Caroline Knickle, Mike and Patty Kramer, John and Kath Leverette, Kent Loughead, Sharyn B. Marks, Pelle and Anne Matson, the Miller family, Chuck Moore, Emily Kierstead and Don Murray, Donna Murray, Yuko Nakamura, Kuulei Park, Chris, Sherryl & Gavin Parsons, Dominic "Dominator" Pieranunzio, Bruce Probert, Robbert van Renesse, Jane Risley, Robin Ronan, Art and Lorene Ruymar, Terry Sasaki, Edward Schilling, Lizann Schultz, Felipe Sequeira and family, Allison Shaw, Clarice Stasz, Jeffrey Sugarman, T. Taggart, Rob Thomas, Elise Tickner, The Ukedelics, Alanna Lowe, Janessa Lowe and Harleigh Underwood, Donna Veniot, David Wade, Carmen Walker, Marjorie Walter, Rod Whitacre, Yoshihiro Yasuda.
Russell Ambeault, Anonymous, Marianne Brogan, Alan Ferentz, Huey Cornwall, Teri Hawkins, Moses Kamai, Kimi and Lisa, Jon Luk, M. J. Martin in memory of Frank D. Schaefer, JB Matheson, Stephen Penny, Road Toad Music, Michael Schillaci, Jim Tranquada.
Anonymous, Peng Ratchaworapong from BaanUkulele, John Chandler, Dr. Clive Deutscher, Douglas Eu, Peter Forrest (Levasseur), Literacy Designs Canada, Heidi & Rob Litke, Barry & Barbara Hill, Gordon and Char from Mya-Moe Ukuleles, Gary Rowbotham, Simon and Glyn from Ukulele Movement, Emoretta Yang.
My sincere thanks to each of you,