Wolverton: Shores of Erewhon
Produced and recorded by Joe Reyes, San Antonio, Texas
Mastered by Carl Saff, Chicago, Illinois
Hills Snyder: guitar and vocals; Joe Reyes: guitars, lap steel, keyboards, melodica, bass and drums
Additional vocals: Michele Monseau, Joe Reyes, Caralyn Snyder, Kate Terrell
Front cover Photo: Jeff Wheeler / Back cover photo: Todd Johnson
Art Direction: Stickbug
All songs © Hills Snyder, 1986 – 2005, Floating Teacup Music (ASCAP)
Guitar quotation in Rumor is taken from The Ballad of High Noon by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington
"Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.” Though spoken by Jimmy Stewart as Elwood Dowd in the 1950 movie Harvey during psychiatric review of his invisible rabbit companion, one could draw a more than a superficial analogy to Hills Snyder and his music, written over about twenty years and recorded in two volumes. The first volume, Tiny Chair, came out in 2012 from 2011 sessions produced by Joe Reyes, a San Antonio artist and musician. Shores of Erewhon, the second, is from the same sessions and was recently released, capping a fairly active two years of performing. These songs are not as ephemeral as a 6-foot plus rabbit, but at some point, one might have pondered their actual existence.
Though ostensibly solo albums, Tiny Chair and Shores of Erewhon were released by Wolverton, the San Antonio quartet that Hills has been part of since 2011, and include contributions from everyone. Though the primary tracks grew out of a spontaneous live-in-studio performance by Joe and Hills, Wolverton’s Caralyn & Kate added voices live as well; Jeremiah contributed cover art. Some instrument tracks were added to songs later, but they feel completely at home, balanced and accretive. I found Tiny Chair the quieter of the two, but the songs of both works would flourish on either. I suspect any difference between the two is a derivative of the time frame when they were finished, but it’s not of huge consequence – they go back and forth through time and tide invisibly.
Hills Snyder is mostly known as an artist, teacher and writer, so it’s not surprising that the lyrics can go anywhere, cutting a wide swath of reference through film, art and literature. Some of the songs reference culture overtly, like the Tin Star film overtones of “Just like Hello” or the Renaissance meets WWII of “History Lesson”. There are also songs grounded firmly in nonsense – these are less comedic than nuanced and more rigorous than random, with “Rope with a String”, “ESL” and “Funnybone” being prime examples. Lyrically, they’re clever and sometimes baffling, like word of the day songs done by an obsessive compulsive. Musically, they remind me of garage rock, a staple of the San Antonio scene, and a deep musical and lyrical thread running through both these volumes. I recall thinking “garage folk” when first hearing Tiny Chair and through this aesthetic, I see Tiny Chair and Shores of Erewhon as two of a pair.
There are a number of songs that feel more experiential and make it easier to see the artist in a single light. These songs are more first person, but abstracted to serve the emotional experience as well. The actual spark could have been anything, as in “Sissy’s Lament” and “Entropy” on the first album, “Wreck on the Highway” and “Lava” on the new one. I don’t know that they’re true, but they feel true, though maybe in the way good fiction does. The title track, “Shores of Erewhon”, seems to challenge critics, know-it-alls and finger-pointers alike; words, images and memories are the bones of our experience, and for Hills, the assailable living fuel for art. Really, I don’t know what these songs mean, but I get it.
Douglas Miles Clarke, No Mission Statement (September 2, 2013)