Robert Hill & Joanne Lediger – Revelation | Album Review

Robert Hill & Joanne Lediger – Revelation

Self-produced CD

11 songs – 44 minutes

Since its creation, the blues has always walked in lockstep with gospel, and it’s hard to separate one from the other in this refreshing acoustic set, which features New York Blues Hall of Fame member Robert Hill and his longtime partner Joanne Lediger in a a full-band setting.

A native of North Little Rock, Ark., Hill’s an acclaimed slide guitarist who doubles on vocals, keys and harmonica here. An award-winning songwriter who’s been based out of New York since the 1990s, his tunes have appeared in numerous films and TV shows on both sides of the Atlantic, most notably All My Children, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and HBO’s Dexter, and have won top honors in contests conducted by Guitar Player magazine, Broadjam and the Unisong International Songwriting Competition.

A vocalist with a sweet delivery who hails from Rockland County, N.Y., Joanne has teamed with Robert for the past 15 years, performing extensively in the region as well as the King Biscuit and Mother’s Best Festivals in Helena, Ark., toured Spain twice and regularly play other major events in the Northeast U.S. She’s worked with a diverse set of talents that includes Joe Cocker, Dr. John, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Cassidy and Vassar Clements.

Recorded by Paul Special at Special Audio Studios in Wantage, N.J., Lediger and Hill share vocals with an assist from his daughter, Paulina, throughout with backing from Steve Gelfand on bass and Frank Pagano on drums. Ed Alstrom guests on Hammond B3 organ.

This set intersperses four Hill originals with seven familiar covers that are designated as traditions in the liner notes. However, four of the seven were first performed by Blind Willie Johnson in the 1920s and ‘30s, and another was actually penned by Tom Waits and debuted in 1987.

That said, however, this is a wonderful set with classic appeal. All of the tunes here regardless of age are made fresh thanks to Hill and Lediger’s energetic delivery and highly percussive arrangements that will keep your toes tapping throughout.

“John the Revelator,” first recorded by Johnson in 1930, sets the tone to open as Joanne handles the lyrics atop Robert’s fingerpicking goodness on National steel. He doubles on harp for the mid-tune break before things rock steadily to a pleasant close. The pace quickens and Lediger takes you to church for a sprightly reworking of “Run On,” a number that debuted as “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” for the Golden Gate Quartet in 1946, which includes a stellar, dazzling multi-dimensional slide guitar solo.

The texture changes and the pace slows for an inventive take on Johnson’s “Soul of a Man,” another Johnson standard, with Robert handling the lyrics and Joanne doubling the chorus. It flows into Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole,” which features Paulina on vocals and takes on a different feel because of a powerful rhumba beat that separates it from the original.

“Jesus by the Riverside,” which follows, is an original that’s deeply rooted in country blues, and Joanne’s lilting delivery with call-and-response accompaniment is perfect for any house of worship. It flows into “Pay One Way or Another,” another fresh number that comes with a grinding blues groove and makes a statement again religious zealotry that colors our politics today.

Two more Blind Willie numbers — “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and the honkytonk-flavored “Samson and Delilah” – bookend “A Devil’s Fool,” a loping number tune Windy City appeal in which Richard recommends strongly that folks should avoid temptation in all its forms before “Preacher’s Blues” serves up a clever rebuke from a preacher before the traditional “Jesus on the Mainline” brings things to a close.

Fun and faith run deep in all the cuts on this one, which shines throughout. Strongly recommended for anyone who’d enjoy old-school gospel and blues with contemporary appeal.

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