Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s The Hills and the Rivers may just be one of the most promising folk outlets to emerge from the Mid-Atlantic in recent years. Billed as a street folk family band, they are indeed, actually, a true blue family affair. The Hills, as they’re called, make up the band as its two leads, coming to fruition when Isaac and Heidi Hill began to record some of the former’s work in 2013. Now, they’re a full band primarily consisting of Isaac (octave, vocals), Heidi (tambourine, vocals), upright bassist James Bristol, violinist Chris Fazio, banjoist Joey Schuller, and djembe player Faith Hershey, as well as a variety of musicians from Pittsburgh’s 4th River Music Collective.
Impressively enough, they rock hard for a folk band, and they swing, too. However, theirs a rootsiness that inhabits every ounce of their work that critics should have no issue placing them in their queues as a bonafide string band—a thing of beauty compared to the debates we often engage in with bands like Old Crow Medicine Show or the Lumineers. There’s a soulfulness and an inherent jazziness that crops up in parts, but through and through, they’re a folk band. They’re just a folk band who knows how to innovate all while keepin’ it folk, more akin to the likes of I’m With Her or the Dustbowl Revival than the aforementioned.
Speaking of I’m With Her, the Hills and the Rivers have a similar knack for gorgeous harmonies as they do. It’s but one cog in the greater workers of their musical machine, turning so lovelily to assist in making the whole thing make its mark. For a grassroots band, too, the production with which they take their album, The Fool and the Magician, in is nothing short of fabulous. A pristine mastering makes all of the difference in being able to lend an ear to each musical thread that pervades this fine work.
For those looking for bonafide folk that still dares to be different, you would be remiss not to give the Hills and the Rivers’ latest an ear. There’s something almost mystic about the way each vocal layer and each instrument culminates to develop something new for the world of roots music that is instantly ensnaring. Whether it’s in the swinging vibrancy of ‘Gotta Get My Thrill’, the softer beauties of ‘Middle Garden’, or the gypsy-fueled instrumental exoticism of ‘The Hawk and the Dove’, there’s something that’s bound to impress anyone here. The Fool and the Magician comes with a hearty recommendation.