Small-town artist Hank Quillen spent the better part of this year’s lockdown being quite productive. Based in Gate City, VA, he found himself alone with “a bunch of instruments and recording equipment”, and as a result began work on not one, but two complete albums, A Southern Style River Revival Volumes I and II. Together, he alone has recorded and produced 18 tracks of country and Americana goodness, steeped in classic rock and blues undertones.
HERE’S WHAT WE DUG MOST…
Volume I opens with Still Love You, a bouncy, bluesy number; a little folky and a little funky. It’s immediately followed by Goodbye Woman, a somber and soulful piano ballad. Quillen has an airy voice that seems to tremble with emotion, and it’s on great display from the beginning of this project.
Something that Quillen does particularly well on his ballads is building song arcs without adding unnecessary instrumentation. One More Song is a great example of this. It features solely piano, but he gradually increases the intensity of his playing as the track progresses before adding just a hint of rhythm guitar towards the end. The result is a song that builds beautifully, while only featuring two instruments underneath the vocals. It’s the attention to the small details that allow these songs to shine; these well-composed ballads never need complex or overdone production.
The title track A Southern Style River Revival and the song that follows are both fun, intriguing numbers that help to show Quillen’s range as an artist. The first unquestionably has roots in blues, and the guitar solo at the halfway point leans even further in that direction. But to our surprise, it’s followed by Winning This Hand, which is definitively a swampy, dark, country-rock tune. The change in direction is unexpected, but it’s a welcome addition that seems to suit Quillen’s style very well, his voice taking on a particularly smoky quality that lends authenticity to the track.
The first volume closes with Please Go, and we’re given another taste of country, but this time on the more classic side. It’s a soulful, authentic conclusion to the first half of this project. Quillen even takes on a bit of a mournful cowboy role as he leans into his southern roots, singing:
Don’t bother with goodbye,
Sorry I tried to love you.”
And then, we get to Volume II. We’re immediately surprised by another change in direction – truly, Quillen is a jack-of-all-genres, as this opens with a funky, rock-leaning track titled Looking For Love. This features vocal breakdowns over percussion, a funk-infused bassline, and heavy use of the wah pedal. You might think it would be out of place on an album like this, but it decidedly isn’t – it mixes wonderfully with the following tracks, and once again Quillen shows us he’s more than capable of branching into any style he pleases.
Southern Lady is reminiscent of Tom Petty rhythmically, with plenty of country notes to go around. This is perhaps the closest Quillen comes to pop on this record, with a particularly singable hook:
“Southern lady won’t you rock me tonight. You make everything feel so right.”
Combined with the tasty guitar licks, this one is definitely a standout on the album.
I Let it Go is another of Quillen’s many soaring ballads. This one beautifully blends gently fingerpicked guitar and piano beneath particularly well-written, evocative lyrics. This is then immediately contrasted by Here To Win, which with its heavily distorted guitars and driving rhythm section gives it definitively a rock feel, perhaps even verging into hard rock territory at times.
Closing out the second volume is I Luv Er, a true blues shuffle at its core. This lighthearted, bouncy number feels like a great end to what is unquestionably a collection of a wide variety of styles – truthfully, this feels like Quillen getting back to his roots to wind things down.
OUR FAVORITE TRACK…
Where I’m From is a delicate guitar ballad that brilliantly shows off Quillen’s lyric writing abilities. Across both volumes, his lyrics are poetic and insightful, speaking with intent avoiding all traces of any filler words. Indeed, there is no fat to trim from his lyrics, and that’s especially true on this track. Where I’m From is an authentic and heartfelt look back on the things that Quillen reveres about the place he grew up:
“Tell you where I’m from with words laced in pride
It’s where the earth reaches up to touch the sky
Mountains that stay strong steady and true
Are the foundation on which I grew
When you’re young you don’t think they have much to teach
Their valleys and towns are no place to spread your wings
I left there in a pile of rust
Watched them in my rearview disappear in the dust”
It’s pure poetry. There’s nothing inherently complex or intricate about the words he’s chosen, but the picture the words paint is stunning and vibrant all the same – the mark of a skilled songwriter. This is absolutely gorgeous writing that we’re sure does the place Quillen is talking about justice.
Soulful, diverse, and authentic. There’s truly something for everyone on this project. Alongside his expressive and powerful lyrics, his distinctive voice, and his consistently solid production choices, these albums are full of high notes. Hank Quillen has a handle on so many different styles and tones, so no matter if you’re a definitive country fan, a blues lover, or a rock enthusiast, you’ll find yourself at home in A Southern Style River Revival Volumes I and II.
BELOW: Listen to A Southern Style River Revival Volumes I and II, and connect with his website and social media platforms, and watch his music video. Please support Hank Quillen by visiting him online, and playing, downloading, and/or purchasing his music, or attending a live show! And, as always, thank you for supporting real music!
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