Jefferson Hyll - Dark
Jefferson Hyll aka Phillip E. Mitchell, was the winner of the open category of the UK Songwriting Contest in 2021. He’s also placed seven more songs in the finals of the contest, two of which were under Jefferson Hyll. Hyll also received a special mention in the International Songwriting Contest. Quite the accomplishments, I’d say! Since 2019, Hyll has slowly moved from Americana to alternative rock, with hints of his previous approach. The artists’s sound is influenced largely by ‘80s Springsteen and Dylan, The Wallflowers, Tom Petty, The War on Drugs, The Waterboys and others. The album Dark, reviewed here, was mixed and mastered at his home in Chatsworth, Georgia.
“Radio Nights” starts things off with a full rock sound - a warm, comforting musical style reminiscent of Springsteen and The Wallflowers. Hyll also adds a bit of piano too - which sounds real sweet next to the harder edged guitars. “If I Sleep” features soft piano and a reverberating guitar hook. This song has more of a modern indie style about it, not sounding dated at all. Michael McGough accompanies Hyll on backing vocals. The two voices couldn’t have matched any better. The title track to the album has a soulful sound, with perhaps, hints of ambient as well. Hyll’s voice complements his choices in musical styles very well - his natural instrument having a beautiful, baritone range. Other singer’s voices like Jackson Browne, Jeff Tweedy and Jakob Dylan come to mind when hearing him sing. “The Seven Seas” belts out a catchy guitar hook, (and a guitar solo played by Joel Davis), a rumbling low drum beat and an overall inspiring sound. This tune has a certain Waterboys appeal to it. Hothouse Flowers comes to mind, too. The song mixes soul and rock, that are played in a key that some would say have an inspiring “church hymn” like style. Jason Kesler helps out on background vocals.
On “City Inside” Hyll offers a gorgeous melody and melancholic lyrics that sing about “childhood days.” One of the most introspective sounding songs on the album is “Human Heart.” This slow-tempo song covers themes of hope, forgiveness and “driving back roads for the holy vision.” The next tune “Stars” has an interesting mix of pulsating bass beats, soft guitars, both clear sounding and distorted, and a low, rumbling rhythm. A guitar solo is played by Cade Roberts and backing vocals sung by Joshua Spence are featured on this track. In my opinion, this is one of the songs that has great commercial appeal - something I can picture being in a movie soundtrack, with a screenplay about childhood themes or a coming-of-age, feel good story made for the big screen. Good stuff! Next up is “Window of Time” another song that has a hopeful, inspiring feel to it. Hyll mixes styles of roots rock, indie rock and alternative. I liked the chime bells towards the song’s end - a nice touch.
For fans of Chet Baker (myself included), this next song is for you. “Crying for Love” offers lush, feathery work on the guitar and piano. This “he played till he fell” sad story about the cool jazz trumpeter who died way too young, is very moving - even spiritual. “The sound of his voice - crying for love” is heartfelt and you can hear it in Jefferson’s voice and words. Arden Miller accompanies Hyll on vocals. She also joins in on the next song “Black Car from Avalon” a faster song, which also features congas. This tune reminds me of driving on some open road in the summertime - it just has that certain sound to it. I guess it seems fitting anyway, since ‘car’ is in the title. Moving on is “Heart’s a Riddle” and this one features a little treatment on the synths and a driving beat. This is another tune with Joel Davis playing a solo. Overall, with more of an electronic, pop rock feel, this song has an early ‘80s love song appeal. The album’s last track “Hold That Thought / Hold Me Tighter” offers a cool sound, with soothing synth, low backing vocals sounding effortless and echoey and another guitar solo by Joel Davis. This reminded me of Springsteen’s late ‘70s work from Darkness on the Edge of Town but maybe also his early ‘80s albums Nebraska or The River. A really fantastic track to round out Hyll’s latest effort. All in all, there’s not one bad track on this album. For fans of the above mentioned musicians and bands, I think you’ll enjoy Dark.
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