Friday, August 29, 2008

Milk Crate Classics #6: Dan Hill – Longer Fuse

I met Dan Hill a few times, before the fame set in. He liked to run cross country, as we called it then, and I belonged to a track and field club. One of the distance runners at the club was friendly with Hill, and he came out a few times. Then Sometimes When We Touch was released and the only other time I saw him was from the 2nd row at the Ontario Place Forum. He wasn't famous yet when I met him, but he had a few records out and we knew who he was. With the release of Longer Fuse in 1977, the album with Sometimes When We Touch, I heard him.

My copy of this album is pretty scratched up which is a testament to how often it was listened to. It's easy to pigeon hole a guy like Hill into someone like Celine Dion, who sings sappy love songs like Sometimes When We Touch, but the truth is something different. He was first off, a guitar player who wrote primarily on the guitar. He was, in fact, a folk singer not a balladeer. But fate gave him a huge hit with Sometimes... and he will always be known as a piano/ballad guy. And Longer Fuse will always be the album with that song on it. But like Dan Hill, it is very much more.

Listening to it now it holds up well. Nicely written songs with somewhat intelligent lyrics will often do that. Starting with the aforementioned Sometimes When We Touch, it's a song that, in my opinion, has gotten a bad rap. Yes it's sappy, but it's also finely crafted, passionate and smart. After that, the piano pretty much gets put away for the acoustic guitars. 14 Today is an old favourite, and comes back and wraps itself around me like a blanket. A mature song from a young man about the perils of growing up, it's both familiar and a discovery as it's been 20 or 30 years since I've listened to it.

Side one finishes out with more of the same, In The Name of Love and Crazy. The real treat of the side is the finale (this is true on side 2 as well) McCarthy's Day. A tribute to Hill's American parents, his black father and white mother left America for Canada the 50's - McCarthy's Day.

Way back in McCarthy's day
My parents left the USA
Young rebellious lovers
They left behind a nation far too proud
And powerful to say
That love transcends all colors
Some black men turned against my father
Some white men turned against my mother
Each race has their place they all would say

And with a past so battle worn
And a future begging to be born
They found a life that's growing still today songs

Side two starts off with a couple of weak songs. Jean and You are All I See are too familiar, too close in sound to the rest of the album without being as good. Things improve, marginally with Southern California before we get into the gems of the side, if not the album. Title track Longer Fuse is romantic, touching and a bit funky. Back to the sort of thing that made side one of this album good.

The album ends with my favourite song on it, Still Not Used To. A song about being a traveling musician with a growing audience, Hill's vulnerability as a performer is here for all to see, the same vulnerability that makes Sometimes When We Touch and Longer Fuse such wonderful songs:

Still not used to having people pay to hear me,
guess I'm still a child trying so hard to please
trying to seek approval through my songs...

Still Not Used To was recorded live at St James Cathedral and features a cello, mandolin, two acoustic guitars it's a pretty song. The live recording, in the beautiful sounding church give it a quality of sound that is rare, and is one of those songs that sounds so warm and beautiful on LP. Great closure of a decent album.

And that's what Longer Fuse is, a decent album. Half the songs are solid, very good songs, half less than stellar. The good ones make it listenable, and five more like it this might still be considered a classic.

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