Smooth. There is simply no other adjective in the English language to describe Percy Hill's approach to their studio work. A funky concoction of 70's soul, Steely Dan jazz, and modern day jamband rock, Percy Hill now have two albums to their credit that stand head and shoulders above just about everything else being put out by their contemporaries.
After All, their eagerly-awaited follow-up to the critically acclaimed Color In Bloom, manages to live up to all the expectations. Is it another Color In Bloom? Yes and no. Putting out another album, as a whole, on that level might be too much to expect, but After All aptly delivers much of what fans loved about CIB without succumbing to the "sophomore jinx," even though this is far from Percy Hill's sophomore effort.
Culled from material the band has honed on the road over the last two years or so, the album opens with "Awaiting Our Return," and the tone is set for the album. Warm vocals, textured layering, and top-notch musicianship are all trademarks of Percy Hill's sound, and they are present on the album in abundance. Nate Wilson's various keyboards remain an intricate and core aspect of the overall band sound, however ignoring Joe Farrell's essential guitar work is nearly impossible. His fluid and tasteful yet cutting lead lines are never more evident than on "Door #5" where both his rhythm and lead playing (which would make Skunk Baxter proud) are as good as anywhere on the album. And not to be outdone, both Aaron Katz's light drumming and John Leccese's smooth dexterous bass playing hold down the bottom, as both echo the overall refusal of the band to overplay at any point.
The album does differ from its predecessor in very subtle ways. It's certainly not a reinvention, as songs such as "Shining on Creation," "Lap of Luxury," and "After All" could have been leftovers from the CIB sessions; however, there is definitely something different about the album. It's "bouncier." It's more fun and laid back - "Brings You Back Again" being the prime example. The song has everything you would expect including a more than passing nod to Stevie Wonder. Had it been on CIB, it might have seemed out of place, but on After All, it fits perfectly.
And whether fans find it more fun to listen to than CIB remains to be determined, but what is already known is that Percy Hill are masters at what they do. Their ability to craft a song is leaps and bounds ahead of virtually any band in the jamband world, which isn't saying a whole lot since Percy Hill long ago left the jamband world in the dust. Aaron Katz and Nate Wilson's lyrics show no sign of weakness, and fans of the band can rest easy knowing that Percy Hill continue to deliver songs that are about something. On "Door #5," the band sings "Step to the side/There's no parting gift or consolation prize/Nothing more for you to see."
Thankfully for music fans, After All is unbelievably far from a consolation prize.
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