Mark Hillstrom has worn many hats over the years. You may recognize him behind the counter at The Exclusive Company, as label boss of Erosion Records (whose roster includes Beekler and the Die Kreuzen Tribute Lean Into It) or as a musician in one of his bands over the years.
In 2002, Hillstrom released the ep In Leaving Fields. That record was a clue that he had found his voice – acoustic based songs built on stark instrumentation and even starker lyricism. In 2013 he released Our Lives as Builders, the next chapter in his body of work.
By the time you read this, Hillstrom will have released From the Mountain You can See the Hills, the seven song project that again features HIllstrom’s rough hewn songs and strained vocals paired with ambitiously orchestrated arrangements. Cello, violin, pedal steel and dulcimer underscore a thick, cinematic bed of instrumentation
The songs may point to 1848 where gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, California or maybe the first ship of Chinese workers to arrive in San Francisco. Regardless, a sense of place or travel perhaps can be gleaned from lyrics that mention Ohio, the Catskills and California.
Never one to waste words, Hillstrom says “there are a few revolving themes, yes.”
Rural imagery, multi-layered instrumentation and songs that seldom employ drums makes it interesting to imagine how Hillstrom would choose to interpret these songs in a live setting.
There have been precedents. The Harvest Ministers, a way below the radar band released some great music that verged on the baroque, as did the Go Betweens, with some success. Let’s not even get started on Gene Clark’s epic, gothic failure/masterpiece No Other – an album that continues to grow in stature.
Perhaps the biggest clue is the lone cover Hillstrom includes, Richard Buckner’s, “Lil Wallet Picture.” Armed with a few acoustic guitars, traveling in his pickup truck, Buckner has carved out a singular niche with a discography that gets deeper with each listen.