Authentic Texas honky-tonk could use less homage, more risk.
I couldn’t help but think Arty Hill was being a bit facetious by naming his latest LP, Another Lost Highway. Then I listened, and when the title track popped up four songs in, all irony went out the window. Hill, a Baltimore resident, creates the kind of authentically referenced honky-tonk jams that would succeed in getting a group of tourists out on the floor at Nashville’s Robert’s Western Wear. The baritone vocals, the aching pedal steel, chugging bass lines, and swinging fiddle all sound great; a little too great in fact. It’s the sound of a well-tuned band that knows their craft and is sticking with it. What it lacks, though, is any heartfelt and genuine originality. Hill covers all the traditional bases, referencing raindrop metaphors, boozy beer-drinking mornings, pissed off wives, and petty, simpleminded criminals like they grow on trees. The man is obviously indebted to his heirs, he just fails to listen to his voice. The end result plays more like a cover band, musicians you’d casually groove to in a bar, but decline to purchase their CD’s at the merch booth. "Lost Highway" is, after all, only one of the most over-used terms in the country music lexicon. From Hank Williams to a previously trendy Nashville record label to, most egregiously, Jon Bon Jovi, musicians and suits have beaten consumers over the head with this redundant metaphor. Arty Hill’s music falls under the weight of this same excess.