"Hannah Gill & The Hours at Sellersville Theater, Sellersville, PA, May 27, 2016" Review by Frank Valish
Listening to Hannah Gill is something of a revelation. From the moment the funky horns drop and Gill's classically soulful voice starts belting out "Austin," the first song on Hannah Gill & The Hours' The Water EP, it's like 50 years of musical history has just evaporated. Like Stax soul remade for the 21st century. Like "Son of a Preacher Man" as covered by a bigger badass and with psychedelic guitar break. Welcome Hannah Gill & The Hours. This won't be the last you hear of them.
Gill's backstory goes something like this. Growing up on the Chesapeake Bay of Eastern Maryland, Gill knew she had a talent for music. After winning her middle school talent show, Gill's proud pop showed video of her performance to some coworkers, one who had a son with a New York City recording studio. Brad Hammonds, a 20-some year veteran of various jazz and rock combos, and owner of said studio, offered to help. Long story short: For Gill's 16th birthday, her father took her to New York City, shopped FAO Schwartz and visited Hammonds' studio. And the rest is, as they say, history.
"Having that studio, you get a lot of people who come in at that age and it's like, 'Alright, we'll Melodyne them and they'll come out feeling great about themselves,'" says Hammonds in the green room of the historic Sellersville Theater where he, Gill, and The Hours are set to perform later that evening. "It's an exciting thing. You're giving them a CD and a gift. With Hannah, it was a whole different thing."
Within minutes of Gill's entering the studio, it was apparent the girl could sing. Gill and Hammonds soon after began a collaboration that culminated first in an EP of Hammonds' songs and a pop-oriented single, "Silver Screens," all while Gill, still in high school, made round trips from Maryland to New York to play gigs. As the pair continued to work together, Gill's predilection for the sounds of Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, and Otis Redding came to the fore.
"My grandma listened to a lot of Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin," says the 18-year-old Gill of her ageless taste in music. "We'd sit in the craft room and paint and build birdhouses and listen to that kind of music. It was something I was drawn to. I like when you can hear the emotion in someone's voice."
Capitalizing upon Gill's affinities, she and Hammonds put together a horn-heavy band and recorded The Water, this time combining Hammonds' songs with Gill's own compositions and collaborations from the pair. Think Amy Winehouse without the drug addiction or Adele without the soccer moms.
Having graduated from high school in 2015, Gill, currently at the end of a gap year, decided to pursue music full time before committing to a college, and she is about to extend her post-high school break another year. As Hammonds says with a laugh, "My goal is, we fail if Hannah goes to college."
A short 10 minutes before show time, interview wrapping up, Gill and her band-Hammonds (guitar), Jason DiMatteo (bass), Chris Eddleton (drums), Wayne Tucker (trumpet), Darius Jones (trombone), and Andrew Gutauskas (sax)-get ready to take the Sellersville Theater stage opening for Louisiana party band Brother Josephus and the Love Revolution. It's only the ensemble's fifth show ever, and on this night they are set to blow Brother Josephus back to the land of creole and gumbo.
Opening with the aforementioned "Austin" and segueing into the brooding, jazzy "Change in Blue," the latter inspired by Gill's move to New York, Hannah Gill & The Hours immediately establishes a presence, the room unfortunately only half full of mostly older patrons awaiting the main act. Gill's voice is as powerful and potent as on record and the newly formed horn trio provides brilliant, if slightly understated, accompaniment.
"Silver Screens," the pre-The Water pop-oriented tune credited simply to Hannah Gill, opens in traditional bass, guitar, drums, and voice format until muted horns enter for the second verse, lending Gill's pop ballad a more traditionally soulful tone. Another pre-Water piece, "I Feel Awake" follows, mashed up with Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," a combination that is seamless in its cohesion and wonderful in its execution.
The best adaptation from Gill's earlier years and the greatest indication of the power of her current ensemble on this night is in the big horns that return to drive "Medicine," a song from Gill's initial Hammond-written 2014 EP. Live, the band turns the record's tentative march into a show-stopping trumpet-led stomp.
Ending the show with "The Water" and "You and I," both from the new EP, Hannah Gill & The Hours showcased itself as an up-and-coming group not to be missed. Gill's stage presence is as engaging as her voice is commanding. Her horn section, while muted at times on this night, showed propensity for full throttle force, something that suits Gill's powerful pipes quite well.
One imagines this show, an opener's slot of 30 minutes on this night, as a 2-hour barn-burning jam, a live onslaught to rival the best of classic soul. The potential is there, as clear as day. Now just wait for the inevitable.
Read the original interview here.