In To the Hills, Graham Lloyd Stewart artistically condenses a 3 year journey in songwriting into one album. Though his songs are tastefully crafted and his instrumentation well-done, it’s his unique power of fusing genres that stands out. Self-described as folk-rock, Stewart is not exclusively committed to one genre. In the album, he’ll hint at hard rock with a wailing guitar (He’s Alive), but will do it ever so gently. He’ll use an acoustic piano to establish an indie-folk sound but supplement it with electronic components (If I Could See). It’s in this musical borrowing that we’re presented an approachable, easy-to-listen-to album, cohesive to itself and altogether unique.
What feels good about the album is the perfect amount of tension Stewart allows. His percussionist, Aaron Brown is almost late to every downbeat in Waiting, an effect that holds the listener’s ear throughout. Will the song collapse on itself? We don’t know, and that’s why we listen all the more carefully. Added to the mix are Stewart’s slow-moving vocals juxtaposed over continual banjo picking. It’s a carefully sculpted decision that works. This simultaneous presence of drive and restraint continues in the instrumental section If I Could See with the quiet precision of a snare/tambourine/hi-hat combo paired with a slower pad/piano duo. Though the style of these two songs is familiar (think Ascend the Hill), Stewart makes it his own. It’s what keeps us listening.
We caught a glimpse of Stewart’s folksy side in By the Grace, but in the ending title song To the Hills he goes all out. The song carries everything a quintessential camp-meetin’ tune should have: straight-forward, hopeful lyrics, banjo-picking, and a sauntering down-home rhythm. It’s a departure from how he started the album- Intro featured crackly, close-knit acapella vocals one would imagine coming from an old dusty record player. But by the end, Stewart’s work is vibrant, bubbling over, fresh, living. It gives the listener an optimistic view of what’s to come, which is hopefully another album.
Buy “To The Hills” here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/to-the-hills/id1090010189
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