Album Review: Hillside Spirit Revival – Self-titled debut from a rising gospel Americana group

If you are interested in deeply harmonic Americana music, you’ll love Hillside Spirit Revival. Sometimes bands use words like “revival” in an ironic sense, but you can tell from the first verse of the first song that the Hillside Spirit Revival come at it honestly. This is a rich, rewarding debut album. Maybe it’s not a revival of religious sentiment, but it’s certainly a revival of traditional American music with hints of blues, country, and hill country music.

“Back to Love” is a song about home and acceptance. It’s about something divine, it seems. There are some really interesting musical developments that show it’s not just a typical three chord song. There are twists and turns that allow the harmonies to tell an interesting story of family and love.

The second track “Stay Longer” feels like a bluesy Americana song about wanting to be with someone who really tugs on your heart. The female accent harmonies are really nice on this one, creating rich textures that allow the lead vocal to pop even better. The piano work on this one is understated, but really outstanding. The lyrics are interesting with a call and response element. It sounds like it’s an old tune with new life breathed into it here.

“Silver Stallion” begins with a simple acoustic guitar and a gorgeous lead female vocal. Immediately I stopped what I was doing to listen to this one. It’s the kind of song that captures your attention and interest immediately. The full band harmonies take it in a slightly different direction, but it still feels good. The slide guitar gives it more of a “country” feel, but it’s a strange song that feels dark and melancholy, while having this little light of hope in the tone of the lead vocal. It’s worth a few listens for sure.

“We Don’t Worry” has some interesting elements to it, with more of a contemplative style. It’s the kind of song you picture being sung at the end of the night at the honkytonk, when the air is filled with smoke and it’s just the regulars left putting down the last of their whiskey. “We don’t worry about a damn thing…” they sing.

The song that brings the house down and brought our attention to the band is the accordion-based (yeah, that’s right) flat out hit song “Soul Revival.” This is the sound that the band needs to harness and replicate. Whether it’s the recording style (was this in a barn or something?) or the spirit of the thing, there’s something about the irreverence of the story… a criminal on the run praying to God to fill his heart… that really connects for me. The layered vocal really feels like a congregation singing a gospel hymn and if you listen real careful, you’ll get the same vibe that you got the first time you heard the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

We’ll keep our ears out for the next album from these cats. We hope to catch them live at a festival some time soon.

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