After an early recording sponsored by Music New South Wales, Laughing Outlaw brought in Brendan Gallagher, who had worked with another indigenous artist, Jimmy Little, on his hit album The Messenger. Gallagher says of Hill’s writing, “His songs are simple and sincere, and in the wrong hands would not ring as true.”
Just like songs sung around a campfire, Namoi Mud was a one-take process. “You have been playing your song for years and you go on and you know how you want them to feel and sound,” he says. With just voice and simple open chords over which Gallagher has layered an ethereal background, Hill shares with listeners the loss of family members, conjures up Grandfather Hill’s voyage from England to Narrabri, takes us on the rodeo circuit and longs for the unrequited love of a dark skinned beauty from Armidale. Hill’s huge projection is tempered by the purity and aching of his writing, such as on Cold Wind: “I hear the voice for my yesterdays now callin’ out my name, I don’t answer to that name no more Oh, how so much has changed.” But it is on Pretty Bird Tree that Hill’s skill as a songwriter shines. Without a hint of apology or recrimination, Hill evokes a gathering spot on the banks of the Namoi where Koori, fringe dwellers and whites would come to drink and spin yarns. One by one, Cranky Franky, Boody Man Joe Craigie and Old Whisper Smith are brought back to life for just a few minutes as Hill makes his connection to the past. “The Pretty Bird Tree. that was a sacred place,” Hill whispers.
Namoi Mud’s strength lies in its clarity and simplicity of its telling, where there is no hiding place for artifice. This is a genuinely raw, tender and heartfelt collection of songs by a man who has entered a new phase of life as an artist, with stories worth listening to and the ability to tell then well. Hill now lives a sober life in Armidale, in northern NSW.
“Listening to any of L.J.’s songs is like a cinematic experience – his descriptions of characters and their environment plays through your head like a moving picture. L.J. is like some big oak tree that’s always been there with all its history and collection of days. You get up close to the guy and you can see all that in his face and his hands. And then you hear it in the songs and in the sound of his voice.These aren’t songs about trying to be famous – these are songs that are a lot closer to the best kind of conversations that you’ve ever had.” Perry Keyes
The CD booklet features photographs by Johnny Barker.
The song “Pretty Bird Tree” has been included on a 2015 re-issue of Buried Country by Clinton Walker.