|Many of the pioneering recording artists of the 1920’s and 30’s such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, Blind Blake, and Willie Johnson were itinerant American blues and gospel singer/songwriters, guitarists, and evangelists. Arkansas born Robert Hill drew inspiration from them for his award-winning original song, “Preacher’s Blues” sung by his partner Joanne Lediger on their new release, Revelation, a collection of eleven new tracks of traditional Gospel Blues, which includes four new originals penned by Hill. Joining the duo, who have been performing together for the past 15 years, are Hill’s daughter, Paulina, on vocals, Frank Pagano on drums and percussion, Steve Gelfand on bass, with Robert Hill on vocals, keys, harmonica, and his award-winning slide guitar. It has often been said ” It’s a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning,” and this album strives to prove that axiom self-evident.
The first recording of the song “John The Revelator” was by the blues singer Blind Willie Johnson in 1930. From the opening, tension-building riff of a National guitar, Hill and company immediately set the stage for the darkly atmospheric and driving blues rock that soon thunders in. Lediger’s commanding, plaintive vocal perfectly conveys the story, aided by dueling slide guitar and blues harp. “Run On” is a straight-ahead boogie which smokes from the first note to the last, locked in by the airtight rhythm section of Pagano and Gelfand, Hill’s incendiary slide work, and an irresistible arrangement. Lediger’s voice soars on this, as she belts out warnings to those who run afoul of the Lord. Hill’s reworking of the Blind Willie Johnson song, “The Soul Of A Man,” may be the deepest and most soulful cut on the album, giving the depression-era treatise a modern, ghostly soundscape, heavy rhythm, and some intense interplay between his guitar and harmonica. Also, perhaps the most compelling arrangement on the album. Stepping aside from the traditional tunes, the band turns Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” into a hip-bouncing blues rhumba, aided by the sultry lead vocals of Hill’s daughter, Paulina.
The first of four originals penned by Hill, “Jesus By The Riverside,” has an infectious chorus and deep roots in country blues, with an extended outgoing slide solo that brings Americana flavors into the mix. It’s follow-up, “Pay One Way Or Another,” is set to a grinding blues groove, with Lediger belting out a humorous indictment of the hypocrisy of modern religious zealots. “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is one of Blind Willie Johnson’s most interpreted songs, which Hill and Co. deliver as a melancholy expression of spiritual struggle, setting it on the back porch v. the pulpit. Hill dishes out advice to not pay heed to temptation on his original Chicago shuffle, “A Devil’s Fool.” Another classic open to interpretation is the Old Testament story of “Samson And Delilah,” told here by Paulina Hill over a strutting, honkytonk shuffle. Lediger seeks counsel from her pastor, who gives a strong, but humorous rebuke on the Hill Country infused, “Preacher’s Blues.”
The earliest known recording of “Jesus On The Mainline” was Alan Lomax’s recording of Mississippi Fred McDowell in the early 1950s. Here, Hill, his daughter, and Lediger use the traditional Baptist hymn as the final altar call for Revelation – an uplifting finale to an album which is a refreshingly unique and contemporary take on a traditional genre.
Robert Hill was born in North Little Rock, Arkansas. As the story goes, whenever someone from the capitol city of Little Rock, (on the opposite side of the Arkansas River), had something they wanted to get rid of, say, a car, a dog, or maybe even an ex-wife or husband, they would drive it over the bridge to the North Little Rock side and dump it. As a result, NLR gained the distinguished name of “Dogtown.” It made the people proud.
Hill has been living and performing around the New York City area for the past 30 years and performing with Joanne Lediger for the past 15. He was inducted into the New York Blues Hall Of Fame in 2014. An award-winning artist, not only for his slide guitar work, but also for his songwriting, winning in numerous songwriting competitions including Billboard, Unisong, and the ISC. His original song, “Preacher’s Blues” sung by Lediger on their new release, Revelation, won Honorable Mention in the recent ISC Songwriting Competition. His songs have been used extensively in film, TV series, and commercials, including HBO series, Dexter, Smirnoff Ice, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, All My Children, and numerous international TV series in Canada, and throughout Europe. The title track from his second release, My Corner, won first prize in the AAA/Americana of the 10th Annual Unisong International Songwriting Competition. Two other songs on that same album won acclaim in the ISC and 11th Unisong Competitions. The album was also in heavy rotation on XM Satellite’s show, “The Loft.” His instrumental, “Slide On Rye,” from his self-titled debut album, won 1st Place in a co-sponsored contest by Guitar Player and Broadjam. He has shared the stage with Jaimoe, (Allman Bros.), Duane Betts, (Allman Betts Band), Levon Helm, (The Band), John McEuen, (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Kim Simmonds, (Savoy Brown), Rick Danko, (The Band),Tony Trischka, Rory Block, Debbie Davies, and numerous others.
Born and raised in Rockland County, New York, Joanne Lediger is a vocalist who has been performing live and recording with bands professionally for the past 35 years. She studied under Penn State’s vocal master, Mary Saunders. Her musical influences cover a lot of ground, from rock to blues to bluegrass, folk & Irish music. Among them are Gillian Welch, Grace Slick, Aretha Franklin, Taj Mahal, Mavis Staples, Mary Black, Cara Dillon, Annie Haslam, Alison Krauss, and many others. Her wide range of musical tastes has given her a tremendous scope of vocal expressions. Joanne has had the opportunity to record and/or perform with musical acts/musicians such as Joe Cocker, Vassar Clements, Derek Trucks, Dr. John, Steve Kimock, Larry Campbell, Buddy Cage, David Nelson, Cornell Dupree, Chuck Rainey, Leo Nocentelli, John Popper, Bernie Worrell, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Tony Trischka, to name just a few.
Together, Hill and Lediger have performed at festivals across the U.S., notably at the King Biscuit Blues Festival, and the Mother’s Best Festival, both in Helena, AR., They perform regularly in the NY/NJ area, as well as performing in numerous festivals throughout the Northeast. They have toured Spain together twice.