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December 1996

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Michael Hill's Blues Mob
Have Mercy!
Alligator Records

This album is for everyone who says there's no originality left in the blues. If you're burned out on one too many versions of "The Sky Is Crying," "Sweet Home Chicago," or "Got My Mojo Workin'," then please take a listen to Michael Hill's Blues Mob's Have Mercy!. This is blues with a social conscience.

Whether it's telling a story about an old woman killed by the police or about the corporate greed running rampant in America today, Michael Hill is a talented songwriter not afraid to address the social issues giving people the blues today. While far too many of his contemporaries are still singing about mojos, hellhounds, rivers rising above the levee, and trying to catch a Greyhound bus, Hill follows the formula of the rappers and hip-hoppers by dragging blues composition into the 90's.

For the purists who felt that Hill's debut release on Alligator, Bloodlines, was too rocked out, Have Mercy! has more of a blues sound to it. But let's forget about that tired controversy and focus on the content here. "Grandmother's Blues" is the highlight of the CD, a disturbing blues/reggae song about someone's grandmother (Hill's own grandmother, perhaps?) who was killed by the police while being evicted from her apartment. With lyrics like "...you don't come through as a hero in blue with blood on your hand..." and "...they called it an eviction but they came all dressed up for war...," it's unlikely that this song will be played at many NYPD Christmas parties this year.

"Bluestime in America" is another good song which hits home for many of us when Hill and a chorus of background vocalists sing against corporate greed and the tough times caused by it. The same theme is prevalent in "Evil Spell," in which Hill takes an old witchcraft incantation and applies modern situations to it --- "...eye of newt, three-piece suit, S&L means spending loot, sell the voters less is more, feed the rich, starve the poor, bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, laid-off workers, profits double, toss the middle class a bone, bottom line you're on your own...." Now those are great lyrics!

Another gem on Have Mercy! is Hill's updated version of "Stagolee," a blues rap in which he campaigns against black vs. black violence.

Lest you think that this could be a depressing album, Hill's music is not all serious in nature. The man can also sing a love song, albeit in his own creative way. Check out "Lost In The Sauce," which could easily be part of Trappey's next advertising campaign. Hill sings "...she gives me jalapeno loving, she sets fire to my bed...," not to mention his lover's cayenne pepper kisses and habanero hugs.

In addition to his exceptional songwriting, Hill is a good Hendrix-style guitarist and pleasing vocalist. His backing band is highlighted by the excellent keyboards of "Professor" E.J. Sharpe. Have Mercy! further cements Hill's reputation as an up-and-coming contemporary bluesman. Highly recommended.

- Bill Mitchell

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