2020 has certainly provided enough subject matter to fill an entire album. Artists, much like the turbulent sixties, are creating songs that mirror the civil unrest, pandemic and unstable political climate. One such artist is Christopher Hill (pronouns they/them). Hill’s new album Keep America All Better Again (KAABA) boldly conveys an audacious pallet that unfolds, spilling into several genres that include Americana, roots, rock and even psychedelia. KAABA endures and never resorts to anything but unabashedly artistic. Even in the most alienist moments and jarring musical measures, Hill is truly human.
KAABA opens with “A Guided Tour Of Lafayette Square”, a reference (presumedly) to Washington D.C.’s park with the same name. The song is unsettling, immersing the listener into a protest-like scene. “MAABA”, the second track, barely settles in before the next song starts. The third song, the title track, has semblances of a sixties-like gem, with Hill’s David Bowie-like vocals corralling the listener. Go higher up, Hill sings, almost sounding like their off the cuff and walking down the street, or singing to anyone on the streets passing by. Bring your love in, Hill sings.
Things turn delicious peculiar in the ravishing “Squatters Rights”. Part unnerving and partly disjointed sonically, there are many moments when as a listener, you don’t have a sense of what is right around the corner. This is what makes the tune all the more interesting. Hill, hitting high notes, and having some of the dreary music bed wallow just a bit longer, incorporates outer atmosphere references. In a count-down-like sequence, the listener is transported to what one might encounter visiting this planet.
Hill brings the listener back to Earth in the fifth track, “The Coronavirus Prison Blues”. Sounding like the crossroads of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and a quicker tempo, pickup guitar arrangement, Hill brings to plight of the prisoners in jail during the time of a pandemic to the forefront. In track six, “Motorbike”, Hill carefully crafts a song about a decades all motorbike crash that took a close friends, with whom Hill had feelings for, life. As Hill recounts the memories, the song grips the listener like an Alanis Morissette song.
“Love Is Stronger Than Death” is a humbling tune, with Hill’s harmonica shining a deeper light on the song’s lyrics. Don’t lose faith in your journey, Hill sings. The touching song meanders a long, flowing like a brilliant Americana track. This one surprised me – it’s completely on the opposite spectrum as “Squatters Rights”. The next song, “The Friendship Proverb” is just as moving, a beautiful way to honor the waterfall of friendship. The amber-esque acoustic guitar pines away, sending chills down the listener’s spine.
Finally, in “Say Their Names” Hill gives credence to the Black Lives Matter movement. Hill simply sings the names of George Floyd, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X and on and on. To hear these names listed, a haunting guitar carrying their souls just the same, is tragic. It’s also necessary. That’s the thing about Hill’s KAABA – you can’t break away and like a magnet, you are stuck on the words and the music.