When I told Whit Hill I was writing an event review about her band, she started yelling into the phone, “Charmie, you can’t do that! You’re one of my closest friends. That is not appropriate.” She calmed down after I promised to be forthright about our twenty-year friendship. Besides, I’m not going to give her any special treatment. It’s not like she’s Madonna. Geez.
Whit founded the theatrical modern dance company People Dancing and was its choreographer for about 100 years. In her current performance incarnation, she plays acoustic guitar, sings, and writes songs. She shares the stage with three others: her husband, local blues legend Al Hill, sings harmonies and plays guitar and keyboards; Chuck Navyac is the drummer; and Pat Prouty plays upright bass. Last March, I arrived at the Ark for the release performance of the Postcards’ CD Farsighted (the show also served as a benefit for the Ark) just as Ms. Smarty Pants said, “Do you know what happened on this day in 1976? Hot-air ballooning was made legal in Michigan. That’s good information to have.”
The songs range from straight-up country to big blues, dramatic waltzes, and sweet acoustic stories. “Sweetie Momma” is a tribute to elderly, tough-as-nails Maggie, who used to live across the street from Whit and Al. In the funky, sexy “Regimen,” Whit talks about her “treatments” and how the doctor says she’s “a lucky girl.” If Al’s love treatments are anything like his slide guitar treatment, then she sure is lucky. Then consider these lyrics from the dramatic waltz “Fall”:
| Coming around the corner
I stumbled into you
I wasn’t being careful
My eyes were closed
You grabbed me by the shoulder
You held me steady too
You pressed me in the wall
You said, “I won’t let you fall”
I have no idea what the song is about, but the imagery is so vivid and the music so hauntingly beautiful, I don’t care.
In “The Milky Way,” Al punctuates the sparse lyrics with sad electric guitar. Whitley speaks of moonlight flowing into their bedroom, of marital bliss as Al sleeps next to her: “[Al mumbles from his sleep] ‘The Milky Way’/And I say ‘Why, baby?’/And you say ‘Because/It begins/With M.'” It’s freaking hilarious and paradoxically sober. This is Whit Hill at her best, showing us we can be simultaneously funny, poignant, scared, and happy. We will love people we don’t expect to, have our fate determined by our eyewear, and speak to our lovers from a dead sleep. We are complex humans on an unpredictable life journey — and Whit Hill sends us postcards from along the way.
John Latini joins Whit Hill, some of the Postcards, and some of the Flying Latini Brothers to premiere songs from Hill and Latini’s Christmas CD D-E-A-R S-A-N-T-A at the Tap Room Annex on Saturday, December 16.
[Review published December 2006]