The Nashville Sessions
Self-Release (box set)
The Nashville Albums
Top quality Country music made in Nashville but born in Germany
This is the crazy tale of a kid with a dream that through pure hard work and a lot of talent made that dream come true.
Even with three solo albums under his belt by 2001, German singer-songwriter Markus was still hardly known outside his native country when he made the bold decision to move to Nashville and seek his fortune.
With little more than a guitar and a bag of underwear to his name Rill played every Open-Mic night in time while living the songwriters dream by taking whatever day work came his way, and eventually word went around that his songs weren’t half bad and when he had put enough money by to go into the studio in 2003, he pulled together a bunch of friends including guitarist Duane Jarvis who also produced that first Nashville album.
Hobo Dream (2004)
The album gets kick started with the chunky Country song Heartbreak Town which has stood the test of time exceptionally well; still sounding like a Classic Alt.Country stomper that could easily still crossover into the mainstream.
Hobo Dream itself follows and is a more mellow acoustic train song; as the title suggests and Rill’s charismatic delivery alongside some piercing lap-steel and occasional harmonica playing make it a smooth ride from start to finish.
Rill’s new friends really do him proud throughout the album with Jarvis’ shimmering guitar on Roll On combining with Rill’s throaty rasp to create a killer Alt. Country song.
For me the stand out track here is Bottle of Lies which is as good a Country song as I’ve heard in years; and as the title suggests, tells the tale of a Mother who creates a broken family because of her alcohol dependence, and could easily have come from Waylon or Willie’s pen.
There are no real surprises with the subjects of the songs here; but Rill’s rye observation of the smaller details in life and the way he’s not afraid of a melody show the shoots of a songwriter on the cusp of the next very big step in his career.
The Price of Sin (2006)
Oh dear God, opening track Singin’ in the Cemetery had tears welling up in my eyes by the end of the second verse; so you can only imagine how I was after listening six time straight. No other genre can make a love song about a dead lover sound romantic and not even a tiny bit mawkish as Country does; and Markus Rill has done it better than most here.
Love songs, both happy and sad are the theme that run the length of this album and one in particular I had to keep coming back too; the eminently danceable, Me and Bonnie Parker; written from the point of view of a boy who fell in love with the notorious gangster at school; and never stopped loving her; wondering out loud what course her life would have taken had she stayed with him and not ‘did him wrong’ when he himself was sent to prison and ‘Barrow came along’. Whether this is a true story or not I don’t care; it’s a doozy of a song.
Rill even dabbles with Gospel-Country on Carry My Load (Lord) with images of characters from the cover of Déjà vu sitting on the porch sipping from a mason jar as Rill dances a slow jig in a bid to woo his lady.
There’s also a religious flavour to the two outstanding songs here; the title track The Price You Pay For Sin is quite magnificent as Rill describes the love he has for Angelina but balances that with the shame he feels for taking her from his oldest friend, Frankie. I can’t think of another songwriter who has taken this subject and done it justice in the way Markus Rill has.
Was Away the Stain carries on the same ‘feeling’ with the narrator again asking for forgiveness for the wrongs he’s done. All three songs wander into Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt territory and come out relatively unscathed.
The album closes with a song that comes way out of leftfield; I’m Not Ready Yet is about a young man getting the 2am phone call to say his Dad is in hospital dying and driving 200 miles without questioning why; and the singer then addresses his feelings about his father and the things they’d done and mostly not done in a way that he’d never done previously and the end result is a beautiful love song that many men will associate with.
On the Price of Sin Rill has seamlessly moved from all out Country music into what was to become Alt. Country; where would his pen go next?
The Things That Count (2007)
Opening track Straighter Road isn’t a million miles away from the previous album; but Rill sounds a touch more relaxed in his delivery; bringing out a warmth not really seen before, but will go on to become his signature on latter albums.
Gotta Keep My Hands Off dabbles with the issue of ‘temptation’ and is a bit of a jug-band meets Austin feel to it; especially the drumming in the foreground and the lap-steel in the back.
On The Sly is a really clever song about a young woman on the cusp of growing up but with a big secret that no one knows about; proving what a clever and observant songwriter Rill was becoming.
On Dimestore Paperback Memory the band crank the sound up for the first time and it really blows the cobwebs away; with a classic piece of Americana set to music.
The mood swings from left to right as the album progresses; with Rill appearing happy and relaxed in one then uptight and worried in another; which all makes for a great, well balanced album that tips it’s hat to the Rootsy end of Alt. Country and edges towards what we now know as Americana.
While everything else is easy to ‘pigeon hole’ as Country/Americana/Alt. Country there is one song here that literally took my breath away the third time I listened to it; and that was because I had to pull the car over to listen intently to the lyrics; as I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
If Markus Rill had only ever written and recorded Sarah Stein he could die a satisfied man; as he has produced one of the finest songs I’ve ever heard. Whether it’s a true story I will let you decide; but the song about an elderly woman looking back on her life as a beautiful young ballerina in Austria before the war and her young neighbour with ‘fire in his eyes’ who loved watching her dance; is stunning beyond belief. Subsequently she has to leave Vienna and move across the Atlantic becomes a teacher and marries with a happy life; then in a Grandchild’s history book, she sees a photograph of a young man ‘with fire in his eyes.’ A happy ending? A sad ending? Find the song and listen; you won’t be disappointed.
This third Nashville album truly is the sound of a songwriter maturing and finding his voice; and is definitely a stepping stone for his future albums which were to feature in my Top 10 albums of the year.
Rill Recordings Re-Visited
Given away free to purchasers of the box set this album is a set of Rill’s work as interpreted and recorded by friends and friends of friends.
As I’m not aux fait with the artists, it’s difficult to judge what is good and what isn’t as most are standard singer-songwriter fayre; but Robert Oberbeck does a good job on Out of the Cold and the German version of Sarah Stein by Hubert Treml and Franz Schuier is nothing if not interesting; but the language takes away all of the subtleties in the original by Markus Rill.
These three albums were recorded in the middle of Markus Rill’s career yet I can’t put a cigarette paper between some of these songs and the ones I’ve come to love in the last few years. Don’t let these disappear again; hunt them down, enjoy them and discover a hidden talent.
Released June 1st 2015