In only five songs, Hilary Scott and the New County Line, manage to do something that most artists can’t do in a full length album; deliver a completely satisfying listen that transcends categorization and genre. There’s nothing explicitly country about Hilary Scott and The New County Line on this 2011 EP, Still. If you had to define their sound it would be more akin to an indie-pop group with their largely piano driven, atmospheric pieces. Few pop songs are this lush though, and fewer still would include the use of a Hammond organ. When all the pieces are added and committed to record, the end result is something that can’t be classified but can certainly be described as amazing.
Aside from being the songwriter and vocalist for the band, Hilary Scott also plays the piano, acoustic guitar, and Hammond organ. She’s joined by drummer AJ Gennaro and multi-instrumentalist Josh Schilling, who handles the bass, electric guitar and Hammond organ as well. Scott’s voice and piano are the most dominating sounds on the EP, but by no means do they drown out the other performances. Every note that these three play has resonance and there’s not a weak note here.
“Labor Of Love” is an almost impossibly catchy song thanks to its handclaps, and percussion. The main riff of the track, shared between the piano and guitar, is intensely bouncy in a moody way but it’s at the moments where the handclaps pierce through the arrangement, that the song reaches a new level of catchiness. There are also a great couple of moments where Scott ascends on the piano, creating a magnificent build that her voice often echoes.
The one song that is not driven by the piano is the fantastic, “Fighting Odds (Take What You Get).” The piece begins with Scott’s acoustic guitar and soaring voice and leads into the main electric riff. The crisp but light drumming kicks in with the bass, both of which withhold just enough force as to not be too prominent, yet they still hold the song together. As the music progresses, the Hammond enters in to deliver a healthy dose of atmosphere but at the same time there’s a fantastic tone being delivered by Schilling’s guitar part. When combined with lyrics like, “All those years of writing your sad songs/You closed your eyes/until love was long gone/Empty silence,” the guitar sounds somber, as if reflecting upon the singer’s remorse amidst the bitterness of the whole lyric.
The band includes one cover, a version of Leonard Cohen’s, “Hallelujah.” The one quibble with the EP could be that another version of such a heavily covered song isn’t really needed, and indeed it would’ve been nice to hear the group tackle one of the many other songs from the Cohen songbook. Despite that criticism, this is really an excellent rendition, taking a similar approach to the versions done by John Cale and Rufus Wainwright, and adding The New County Line feel to it. Maybe it’s from drawing upon the lyric’s unarguable power, but the performances are particularly strong here, with Scott delivering a mesmerizing vocal and Gennaro giving it his all on the drum kit.
The remaining two songs on Still, the opening “Untitled (So Long)” and the closing title track, are similar in how they’re longer, sweeping songs, that each build up to a glorious finish. The former of the two begins with the piano and voice and ends with crashing drums, the organ at full force, and that piano pounding out the notes. The build adds an extra level to the lyric as the singer begins by stating her lack of confidence and her loneliness, yet ends with her resolve in finding someone to love. “Still” does a similar thing, though it begins with guitar and vocals and builds to an emotional guitar solo over similarly intense backing musicianship. Scott’s lyric here also shows a journey of emotional progress, but one more filled with determination throughout heartache.
Hilary Scott and The New County Line have constructed a brilliantly epic sound and it’s featured on their EP Still in fantastic fashion. Even with only having five songs, there’s a tremendous amount of musical content and it’s staggering how beautifully it all comes together. Scott’s voice is worth the price of admission alone but to hear it working with other engaging performances is incredible. Still has the ability to reach beyond musical genre, and reveal its excellence to anyone who enjoys and appreciates music.
Review by Heath Andrews
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)