Album Review – Hill Country (Self-Titled)
Texas country singer and songwriter Zane Williams already had a steady gig as a revered and supported artist in the scene for years, releasing seven records, touring extensively throughout the region, and once being the catalyst for rolling up a Houston-based crime syndicate that had stolen countless instruments from traveling musicians. So why go off and start a band with as ambiguous of a name as “Hill Country” to hide yourself in?
The answer is found in the 12 songs of the self-titled debut from this semi-supergroup where the chemistry is just right for delivering good times and good vibes in a variety of ways. Zane Williams has always had a bit of a hard time sticking to country music exclusively, though he did dedicate himself to it in his 2016 record Bringin’ Country Back, but that’s not what Hill Country’s about. It’s about easing back and having a good time for both the band and the audience alike.
Teaming up with with Zane is fellow singer and songwriter Paul Eason who is also known for playing guitar with for Kevin Fowler, Houston drummer Lyndon Hughes, Austin bassist Sean Rodriguez, and multi-instrumentalist Andy Rogers who gives Hill Country the latitude to articulate just about whatever style of American music they choose, from classic rock to bluegrass, to country and folk. And they take full advantage of it.
Hill Country is unafraid of being labeled copycats. They’re just here to let the good times flow. Name checking “Sweet Baby James” in the first song on the album called “River Roll” let’s you know they don’t care if you throw out James Taylor comparisons. That’s kind of the point. When they get to “Hey Susanna” later in the record, the Tom Petty influence is clearly palpable. And if that doesn’t sound like it’s up your alley as a country fan, wait until you get to the mountain music musings of “Evergreen” and “Dixie Darlin'” where the banjo is hot, and the secret weapon of this sextet—multi-part harmonies—makes its presence most known.
Hill Country is kind of like a cover band playing original songs, if that makes sense, meaning you can plug them in at a corner stage anywhere, and the crowd will probably find favor in them with warm melodies and strong hooks. Don’t take that to mean the songwriting is secondary or unoriginal though. Quite the contrary. The more traditionally Texas country-styled song “The Eagle” is a great composition to really listen to and ponder on, while the twist in the story of “Dixie Darlin'” makes it much deeper than just a banjo jig. Songwriting is one of the best assets of the record.
You need a little bit of ego to get up on a stage in front of strangers and sing with a spotlight on you. The best know how to exploit that while simultaneously reigning it in so that the crowd senses your humility. Dale Watson has that quality where he walks into a room and feels like a superstar, but doesn’t give a damn about being famous and most certainly isn’t changing his style to get there. Zane Williams has that same aptitude. He’s a great frontman, whether solo or in this outfit, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to change what he does or how he does it to get ahead, which he articulates in the song “Company Man” found on the record.
The term “Hill Country” can imply a number of things, from notions of the Texas Hill Country that makes you think of Luckenbach and Jerry Jeff Walker, or the hills and hollers of Appalachia where the roots of country emerged, or the golden hills of Southern California that gave rise to the folk rock sounds of Laurel Canyon. All those influences are unabashedly exploited and re-interpreted with a fluidity on this record, but presented with strong a cohesiveness as well.
Whether Hill Country becomes a permanent home for Zane Williams, Paul Eason and the others, or a fun side project, the results speak for themselves, which is a full-bodied listening experience satisfying many cravings in country music and beyond, resulting in a warm feeling and a good vibe.
1 3/4 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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Purchase album from Hill Country
June 3, 2020 @ 8:04 am
Looked up their website and listened to parts/pieces of all the songs on the album (they’re all there). This is good shit. Thanks for posting. I’ll be purchasing.
June 3, 2020 @ 8:13 am
Eagle and Snake, one of the best on there! These guys are all greatness by themselves, their sound is just what country music needs right now .. actual country music!
June 3, 2020 @ 8:18 am
This is the music I live for. Enough pop mixed in for replay value and listen to with friends. But it’s good music that doesn’t sacrifice anything in content. Great country instramention to top it off. The only thing that makes me a bit weary about this is sometimes Zane can be pretty corny and predictable with his lyrical content at times. What I mean by that is songs like Hands of a workin Man’ in the past have seemed extremely generic. So hopefully going forward with this band can avoid that.
June 3, 2020 @ 10:40 am
This is just pure, solid, no-frills, quality music.
June 3, 2020 @ 12:36 pm
Beautiful music. Great album.
June 3, 2020 @ 12:39 pm
Saw them twice when they had a residency at Love and War in Texas. Great live energy!
June 3, 2020 @ 12:58 pm
Glad to see Paul Eason singing again, miss him touring solo.
June 3, 2020 @ 1:08 pm
This is great. Love it a lot.
June 3, 2020 @ 2:11 pm
Zane Williams is a lyrical genius.
June 3, 2020 @ 2:27 pm
I usually gravitate toward a grittier form but this is damn good stuff! Great writing, great arrangements, beautiful harmonies! I’ve yet to hear a song that wasn’t extremely well thought out and executed. I’ll be playing this album! Good review!
June 3, 2020 @ 2:43 pm
How much time did he take for his involvement with the stealing of instruments
And I applaud him for stepping forward, people make mistakes and if you fess you and take your weight, then who am I to hold it against him
I will also be purchasing this album
June 3, 2020 @ 7:39 pm
Um… he had nothing to do with the theft of the instruments. He helped the authorities crack the case due to GPS tracker he installed in his equipment trailer which was stolen.
June 3, 2020 @ 6:44 pm
I can hear every word in these tracks. I can also hear every instrument . this is because its a terrific mix proving once again that IT CAN BE DONE . you CAN have it all . quality pickers, great tunes , GREAT vocals and a production and mix that allows everything to shine .
this is a treat …
June 4, 2020 @ 7:00 am
Anyone know who produced/engineered/mixed/mastered? Always nice to know those details even on a smaller release.
June 9, 2020 @ 7:17 am
The band self-produced, our drummer Lyndon Hughes mixed, and Jerry Tubb with Terra Nova did the mastering
Billy Wayne Ruddick
June 4, 2020 @ 10:01 am
Good point. Jesse Daniel proved that point in an even bigger way with his recent album. It’s shocking to me that a lot of the bigger names can’t seem to figure this out.
June 3, 2020 @ 7:34 pm
I have all of Zane’s albums but he has never seemed to live up to his full potential in my opinion. Each album has 3 or 4 good songs, but he never seemed to have that great album.
I think he should do more with this band. This may be Zane finally hitting his stride. Thanks for the review. I had missed this one.
June 4, 2020 @ 5:25 am
Basically Midland, but a lot less cheesy.
June 4, 2020 @ 6:36 am
I bought this album the weekend it went first went on sale in early April. The first couple of songs aren’t for me, but the album really hits its stride on the back half. I immediately liked “Palamino Gold” and “Adios,” the latter of which is the only song with Paul Eason on lead vocals. He nails the delivery.
As I’ve listened more, I’ve come to love the bluegrass-themed “Dixie Darlin'” and “Evergreen,” and the storytelling in “Janie Lynn” is great.
I think Zane Williams is probably the most underrated artist in the Texas scene. His solo albums have produced a lot of the songs in my rotation. His and Paul Eason’s voice mesh well here. I agree with the earlier comment about the mixing being top notch on this album. I don’t agree that this band is anything like Midland.
As a whole, the album reminds me a little of Wade Bowen’s 2018 album Solid Ground in that it has a mix of the various sounds you hear in Texas. Overall, I think it’s really solid.
The Original WTF Guy
June 4, 2020 @ 9:24 am
This is why this site is so great, finding stuff like this. I have found *so* much great music here and am so thankful to all those who have made recommendations, particularly Trigger who does most of that.
As for the other stuff, … 🙂
Have a suggestion. Since there is simply no way Trigger can keep up with everything, would it be possible to perhaps deputize some of those that can be trusted and have them identify artists they are particularly fond of and do short reviews of their catalogs and host that on this site.
One thing I have done over the past couple of months is go through the entire catalog, first to last, for a number of artists. I started with The Beatles because I was doing a sabbatical at the University of Liverpool, but following that I did The Who, Zeppelin, the Stones, the Kinks, and Elton John. I also just finished up with a “50 greatest country albums” list. My point is that I’m guessing some people would be happy to take a fresh look one of their favorites and share why they love that artist with others. Just a thought!
June 5, 2020 @ 10:20 am
This is an interesting idea. I’m always open for contributions, though it can be difficult with review material, because people come to the site expecting things to be presented in my voice. The reason I don’t write shorter, but more reviews is I feel taking time to really focus on one album has more value than scatter shooting, though I understand there a value to that as well. I also wanted to launch a message board which could facilitate more sharing of music and opinions between readers. But with the way the comments sections have already become so unruly lately, I don’t want to take on another thing other people can post on, but somehow I’m held accountable for, for what anyone says. Maybe in the future.
June 4, 2020 @ 7:50 pm
I feel like this album starts good. Takes a weird turn then just fades off into nowhere. The end is easily forgotten about. Thanks for the heads up I’ll keep listening trig.
June 6, 2020 @ 5:18 pm
I am intrigued. One comment says the album hits it’s stride on the back half. Another says album fades off into nowhere. Different strokes, I suppose. Love the 2 songs posted here. Shit, gonna have to buy it…
June 6, 2020 @ 11:52 pm
Incredible album. Listened to it all day at work and turned it back on once i got home to peel a few cans for my three-day weekend. With all the bullshit going on right now this record is definitely balm.
July 7, 2020 @ 7:46 pm
Apologies for being a late commenter here (dunno if there is any time limit) but this is definitely one really, really fine album; judging by what I’ve heard so far. Trigger’s done it again by giving this one the light of day. Thanks Mate!
July 7, 2020 @ 9:53 pm
There’s no time limit, I try and wait until I give a few spins to weigh in because sometimes I make the wrong read and I’m many times the last one to chime in. This one at the beginning I was like meh…… and then when everyone including Luke said ….yadda yadda now I have to go back and see……. am I crazy? Am I deaf?? I have “EARS” The album is pleasant, like Blackberry Smoke or Whiskey Meyers etc…….. I look for more than that to make my rotation. I’ll keep spinnin it though.
August 25, 2020 @ 2:21 pm
LOL…… I had to go back and look at what I wrote a few weeks ago…. I said I’d keep spinnin’ and it never left the rotation. It just kept growin’ and growin on me a little more each time. A beautiful album for hitting the bike trails in the summer. This is better than pleasant by a long shot it adds atmosphere to a warm sunny day.