Steve Hill – Dear Illusion
No Label Records; 2022
10 tracks; 38 minutes
Canadian Steve Hill is best known as a phenomenal guitarist. However, he is also a talented multi-instrumentalist who has spent nearly half of his career performing as a one-man band, using his feet to play drums and various percussion instruments, and with a harmonica frame around his neck. On his latest release, Dear Illusion, he plays guitar, bass, drums, pedal steel, piano, mandolin, and harmonica, as well as providing the vocals. However, he also collaborates with eight-time winner of the UK award for Drummer of the Year, Wayne Proctor, and has added a fabulous horn section. Of course, it is his guitar work which stands out as the most impressive.
All songs are written or co-written by Hill, and many of them reveal personal stories about his life. He has noted that a painful failed relationship led to several of the songs on this album, such as the title track, “Steal the Light from You”, and “She Gives Lessons in Blues”. In “Dear Illusion” he notes, “your heart can lead you astray. Who is this? Oh, my Lord, how could I have been so blind, to go and lose my mind for an illusion?” In “She gives Lessons in Blues,” he reframes the pain by crediting the woman for teaching him important lessons that will improve his music: “I want to thank you for putting the hurt on me…before I met you, I never knew the meaning of the blues. I’ve been singing the blues for twenty-five years but didn’t know what I was talking about…It only took six months of you to finally make a blues man out of me.”
Hill also takes on some social issues, such as noting the ridiculousness that can be reached by some social media in his song “Don’t Let the Truth Get in the Way (of a Good Story). And one of the most interesting stories from this album explains how he came to write “So it Goes”. He has stated that he got the title from a Kurt Vonnegut book where the character goes to war and whenever someone dies responds by saying, “so it goes”. Hill noted that he knew many people who died fairly recently, and it was those experiences which led to the inspiration for this track.
Despite these fairly intense themes, the album manages to be extremely upbeat, with an overall theme of resilience. He encourages others to carry on, and to put your best foot forward despite any past misfortunes. Hill’s vocals are solid and well-suited to expressively delivering the messages of each song.
Dear Illusion falls fairly far over on the ‘rock’ end of the ‘blues-rock’ continuum, leading it to being labeled by some as “R&B informed” rather than blues-rock. But those who appreciate such a genre, and who appreciate excellent musicianship and clever lyrics, will want to add this fine album to their collection.