Northeast Performer Magazine- July 2000
April Hall, Singer-SongwriterBreaking Down the Talent Intro
April Hall's debut CD Something Like That doesn't sound like a singer songwriter record, at least not like the kind you are used to. There's no "stamp" for it-it's not a Paula Cole wannabe, it doesn't have Sheryl Crow's drum loop with twang sound, not too much jazzed out Joni Mitchell either. Hall is fond of the hollow, woodsy acoustics of upright bass and unprocessed drums, along with acoustic guitar and the occasional Udu accompaniment.
The visceral power of the record comes through the strongest. For someone with Berklee-powered theory behind her, it is surprising to find nary a minor seven flat five throughout her 12 songs. Instead, the melodies are well-crafted and are performed expertly, and the other instruments find their places around them. In this way, the album doesn't really remind the listener of anything specifically.. It impresses by not trying to impress. Experience
When you are a big fish in a small pond, you flourish-you assume your role as the up-and-coming musician and you stay there because no one else comes along to challenge you. Having one musician in your small town is enough. And you go to a local college on scholarship because, well, you're the musician in your town."I dropped out because I wasn't really learning anything at my small college in Florida," Hall remembers. "I went to Berklee to Berklee instead." Moving to the larger musical community paid off. Hall would sink into horn arranging classes and become a bigger and better fish-with a polished voice and solid arranging skills as well. Hall won Berklee's Louis Armstrong award in 1993. She's been busy since then... Skills
"I write my own charts, I can lead the band through arrangements...I know the reputations that singers get. That's not me," she says with the kind of roil that makes you believe her- the same attitude she brings onstage. Hall has performed with Soul Kitchen, a local R&B outfit, for the past 2 years. Anyone who plays in a working band knows what it does to you-or, in better light, for you. There is an art to mining your emotional depths and finding the energy to sing cover tunes over and over again, especially in a band like Soul Kitchen which demands Aretha Franklin-like vocal acrobatics. To get onstage and live that music over and over again is something like training for an event, and event that doesn't' necessarily come.
For Hall, the event has indeed come-in the form of Something Like That, her first offering of original material. Hall is married, she has a son, has been working in this music business for years doing GB gigs and backing up other singers. What has taken so long? I've always written songs on my own, I think it just felt right to do it now... I've spent so much time playing in bands and recording that, when it came time to do my record, I knew what I wanted. And I was ready to do it right, not cut and corners." Patience is a virtue, but it is a skill when teamed with focused determination. Hall gave her CD to her bandmates in Soul Kitchen. Then came the comments. "They were SO surprised. They're used to hearing me belt out Aretha tunes. They were like, 'It's so..quiet!" Everyone has positive things to say. But they've never heard me sing songs like these." The bulk of Something is on the milder side of the volume scale. But truth be told, "Likeness to Castles" has more than just a little funk to it. And it's a good example of how good a writer Hall really is. Medium slow 16th note backbeat rocker with horn lines-not hard to do, but nearly impossible to do well. You've heard them-the misguided funk tunes, sounding like a Chick Corea Electric Band experiment gone horrible wrong. But with Hall's powerful melody, everyone stays right where they should be. And there' the soaring vocal that is reminiscent of a certain R&B legend... Knowledge
Throughout the '70's and '80's, a young afro-ed drummer named David Garibaldi started playing funk with an ear from something different. The ensemble he played with, Tower of Power, asked the enduring question of it's audience-"What is Hip?" It is the perfect example of a question that has no good answer. Simply by asking it, means you have fallen into a trap. "I have been doing music for a long time. And I've lived. So when I write a song that has three chords in it, I don't stop and think, 'Hmmm. This song should have more chords in it.' That is something that alot of songwriter fall into..."-especially when you have Berklee theory buzzing in your trained ears. "If a song has three chords and sounds good, then it's done...you can ruin it if you add things just for the sake of adding them." Is this hip enough? No good answer, don't ask the question. "The exchange of ideas with other musicians is something that is so important. It's tough to bring your songs to a band and watch them bring it to life." You have to be clear about what you want the song to do, but you must temper that with some restraint. After all, your guitarist knows guitar better that you do, he knows its limitations and strengths. He may have something to offer. "you need to balance how much you direct and how much you are open to input from the band members." Outro
"I want to tour. I have a band to go out with. Everyone is excited about the record. I hope we can get it to happen." She knows the reality of the music world, that it's tough to get 4 musicians into a room for a rehearsal, forget about a tour for several weeks. But she has a strong record to support. She returns to the stamped out sound of singer songwriters. "I think that it goes back to your experience. If you aren't sure of what you want or how to get it, you end up trying to be 'hip." A producer's graceful touch can smooth over your rough edges and give you an instant appeal...and stamp you into something people will recognize and say, "Yeah it's like Ricki Lee Jones meets Jane Siberry..." Unless you know what you want and sound like yourself. (by Jonathan Babu)