James Hill: the Old Silo

Love, loneliness, and ukulele

Photo by Lauren Siddall.

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Nova Scotia songwriter and ukulele player James Hill made waves in the Canadian music scene last fall with the release of his new roots/Americana album, The Old Silo.

Hill is an experienced performer, with five other albums to his name. He is also a well-known ukulele educator and clinician, as well as the co-author of a ukulele method book series. He began learning ukulele early in life in his hometown of Langley, B.C., where he honed his technique throughout his teenage years.

Hill cites Troy Fernandez, Ohta-San, J. Chalmers Doane, John King, and Kimo Hussey as his largest ukulele influences.

The Old Silo was recorded in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and produced by acclaimed indie-rock musician Joel Plaskett (who is also featured on the album).

Hill brings virtuosic ukulele technique and a wealth of musicality to The Old Silo. His reimagining of the ukulele and its role in modern music is an impressive display of his innovation and creativity as a songwriter and musician.

The Old Silo is a fresh take on folk/roots rock music, and incorporates elements of country and indie rock. Cellist/vocalist Anne Janelle, pianist Bill Stevenson, and harmonica player Joe Murphy join Hill and Plaskett on the album, creating a wide spectrum of instrumentation Hill uses to present various styles and sounds throughout The Old Silo.

The album opens with “New Moon,” a timelessly catchy tune with a cheerful ukulele accompaniment. It is one of many songs on the record that highlights Hill’s strong lyric writing, including the meandering and sweet “Gold Digger.”

Featuring banjo, spoons, and ukulele, “The Village Belle” is another standout from the album, sounding like an indie-rock interpretation of a country hoedown tune. Other songs on the album also hint at country classics; “Promenade” is a crowd-pleaser with a breakdown and harmonica solo, and “Lovebirds” a classic country/roots tune with a bluesy piano opening.

Pared down love songs with haunting vocal harmonies are contrasted by hard-driving tunes like “She’s Still Got It” and “Tie One On,” which evoke modern indie/alternative rock bands, featuring edgy vocals and baritone ukulele riffs from Hill.

“The Brightest Lights” is another highlight from the album, filled with rich notes from the ukulele and cello, as well as soaring vocal harmonies.

Hill demonstrates his strong musical instincts throughout the album by masterfully combining the tones of different instruments to create an effortlessly unique roots/Americana album.

Hill creates beautiful narratives and imagery that infuse everything from love to loneliness into the record. The Old Silo reflects the musical maturity and experience of Hill and Plaskett, delivering in every aspect of music-making.