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November 1998

Michael Hill
New York State of Blues
Alligator Records

Michael Hill is about more than just recycling old blues lyrics with contemporary production values. The talented New Yorker is on a mission to bring relevancy to the genre by singing about current conditions and situations. He takes the advice of the wise elder on the title track to his latest, New York State of Blues (Alligator ALCD 4858; 48:30): "Practice that guitar, boy, but don't be scared of words. Look at life around you, 'cause other stories should be heard...try to soothe but tell some truth." So he sings about the plight of the squeegee men who wash windows for a living ("This Is My Job") and about life in the Bronx projects ("New York State of Blues"). He also addresses the age-old tale of infidelity ("Long Hot Night," "Soul Doin' Time") and comments on the increasingly young age of today's new crop of blues players ("Young Folks' Blues," which carries the line: "I'll start my son when he's three, he'll pay his dues on MTV"). On the lighter side is his hilarious "Up And Down The Stairs," about the plight of a man trying to get in shape in order to keep up with his ambitious new lover.

An accomplished guitarist of scorching intensity, Hill sings with a hearty blues holler and delivers the goods on every track. His funky take on the Temptations' classic, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," is a showcase for his excellent slide playing. And he puts a straight 12-bar Delta blues spin on Stevie Wonder's "Living For the City," with chilling results. After three albums of this kind of contemporary storytelling, Hill has firmly established himself as a modern-day griot of the blues...and a helluva player to boot.

Originally published in November 1998
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