The Hills Are In His Heart

A Review of Sweet Tea a CD by Hills Rolling

by Mark Kirby,

Whatever one could say about Hills Rolling, the moniker of one-man band Trey McGriff, you can’t accuse him of having shallow roots. On his myspace page he lists as influences about one hundred or so bands and musicians. There are old schoolers (Otis Redding, The Beatles, Pink Floyd), new schoolers ( The Killers, My Morning Jacket), tweeners (Nirvana, Dinosaur, Jr.) electro types (The Cure, Depeche Mode) and eclecticians like him (Beastie Boys, Beck). No doubt this is in part a smart-ass commentary on the “what are your influences” question. It is also a list of people he has most likely listened to and is another way of saying that all the music he has heard, or for that matter, everything he has been through, is recorded by the brain, swished around by time, and reflected in his songs. Loves, hates, sounds, tastes, it’s all in your head. Musically and lyrically, this message comes through loud and clear on!
his CD Sweet Tea.
Hills Rolling - Sweet Tea

With all this in his musical blender, he has come up with a record that is like a meal with different foods, different flavors, and quite tasty. Sweet Tea is not an album with a theme or unified sound per say, but the strength of the songs and the individualism of his voice and musical palette steers the record clear of being a hodgepodge of stuff. He is not intellectually and intentionally going from style to style as if he’s searching for an identity, or flailing about hoping to catch the listener’s ear. The songs are well-crafted and come from his heart, making the music distinctly and honestly Hills Rolling. Not unlike a jazz artist who expresses his individual voice on an album by having a ballad, swing numbers, a blues and a song with a Latin flavor.

“Crazie” opens the record with a catchy bit of vintage hard rock that is the ’08 answer to “Rock and Roll Hootchie Coo” by Rick Derringer. The macho stance of that song is replaced by the simple wonder of gettin’ down with a beautiful girl that’s made him so crazy that “I don’t know what to do / I’m gettin’ dizzy I’m shakin’ in my shoes.” The music works well with the song, alternating between hard bar chord guitar licks and trippy tremolo/vibrato-soaked guitar leads. His pop sensibility keeps everything tight, short and sweet like the tea. Hip hop drums open “Not Again”, then the song gives way to the kind of acoustic/electric guitar-based rock that never goes out of style. Percussion and a home boy chorus give the song a party feel despite the grim!
ness of the song’s slice of life lyrics: “I just live day to day / barely keepin’ my head above the water / Not again got all these feelings trapped inside me / Not again can’t pay the bills I think I’m sinking your way . . . I’m so lonely / some day / we’ll ride the waves into the sun.”

This cut deftly combines a pleasant tune with grimness, humor, and hope all rolled into one. “Watching The Waves” is psychedelic rock by way of the Cure, with a beer soaked college kid trippin’ on playing some simple guitar chords and having a moment with his friends. The harmonica captures the feeling of timeless, be-here-now grooviness that puts you right there on the beach, as McGriff chants “Standing in the ocean watching the waves roll by, roll by.”

One of McGriff’s other musical projects is in the mode of experimental electronica and is called Some Where Out Here. The song “Middle of Nowhere” hints in this direction. Starting with an electronic drum pulse and droning bass with a spacey guitar riff ala New Order, this piece is a soundtrack to doing . . . whatever. Weird sounds come in and out of focus as the interlocking licks and drum beat march on. Whereas these elements might seem abstract on another record, here the music maintains a grassroots, funky, down home feeling.

In her October 2007 article in the New Yorker, author Sasha Frere-Jones, the best music writer around I must add, wrote that, unlike rock from the 50’s through the 80’s, twenty-first century indie rock is totally devoid of the blues and soul, the root-feeding soil of so much great music. This leaves indie rock and its offshoots, in his words, “full of lassitude and monotony.” No problem with that here. Hills Rolling McGriff is from Georgia or thereabouts, so the blues, soul and country are in his blood. Perhaps that is what helps blend the musical stew he’s cookin’ up on Sweet Tea. This CD is further proof that while commercial rock and pop are rotting and twisting in the wind, these are great days for music down here where just us folks are living.

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