Corrections or additions?

This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the December 12, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Maggi Hill: Musician & Mom with a Mission

As you sit in a church come Sabbath Day,

the collection plate slides down your way.

Think of hungry mouths you’ll feed,

thank your Lord you’re not in need.

For the faith and the hope and the charity

that drive you on and set your mind at ease.

One day I’ll find a way to believe,

and the will to embrace the faith in me.

— "Faith In A Seed"

Sure, singer-songwriter Maggi Hill is a person of

contradictions. Most people are. But perhaps unlike most people, she

has decided to embrace her contradictions.

So it’s not so unusual that Hill would choose to bookend her new C.D.

"Paradise Lost and Found" with "Faith In A Seed" —

her wistfully reflective song about the faithless seeking the comforts

of faith — and "Moan You Moaners" — her cover version

of Bessie Smith’s raucous barrelhouse tune that sports the defiant

line, "religion turns you inside out."

"When I look at people who have their faith and see how it gets

them through a lot of difficult times, I think to myself, Damn it,

I wish I could find that," explains Hill. "But take a quick

look around and see all that is going on in the world today in the

name of God, it’s pretty easy to see that taking your religion too

literally can make you crazy. That’s why I chose `Moan You Moaners’

to close the album. It’s really kind of a gentle jab at organized

religion."

A charismatic performer, Hill and her band will be appearing at The

Ernie White Band’s upcoming Christmas benefit show at Conduit Music

Club in Trenton, Sunday, December 23. She will also perform her

monthly

date at the Tap Room in the Nassau Inn in Princeton on an as yet

unannounced

date in January. Updates are available at her website,

www.maggihill.com

In an interview that took place in the cozy confines of her family

room, while sipping coffee and looking out at the dreary branches

and brambles of a late autumn afternoon, Hill describes the surprise

she felt in the recording studio when first discovering that the theme

of spirituality somehow crept into her new C.D.

"I didn’t even notice it at first," says Hill. "The band

and I had recorded four or five songs, not really thinking about it,

and my producer Ralph Liberto suddenly said to me, `Maggi, you’ve

got a whole Adam and Eve kind of thing going on in here.’ I just had

not made that connection."

In addition to the Bessie Smith number, "Paradise Lost and

Found,"

offers a collection of 10 original songs with richly crafted lyrics

wound around breezy country-tinged musical arrangements spiced up

with a dash of blues in the vein of Lucinda Williams and Emmylou

Harris.

Recorded at Graphic Sound Studios in Ringoes, New Jersey, where it

was mixed and engineered by Greg Frey, and backed by her five-piece

band, known as the Maggi Hill Band — Jerry Steele, Tom Reock,

John Bushnell, Bob Demetrician, Steve Demet — Hill has created

a CD every bit as polished as much of radio fare heard across the

country.

"Paradise Lost and Found" is Hills’s second album, and

recording

it close to home was an especially pleasant working arrangement for

Hill. About half of her debut album, "Keep The Label,"

released

in 1998, was recorded in Nashville. It proved a difficult learning

experience for Hill.

"In Nashville they have a preconceived sound that they think is

salable and they kind of foist it on anybody who comes into a

studio,"

she says. "Consequently, that album has more of a country feel

to it than the new one. Don’t get me wrong, they have great musicians

in Nashville, but it wasn’t how I like to work. To me it’s much more

important to get at what each song is trying to say rather than an

overall sound."

But the important thing for Hill was that she didn’t need to sacrifice

quality or professionalism in order to work closer to home.

"`Paradise

Lost and Found’ was recorded just down the street," says Hill.

"They have a 24 track digital studio at Graphic Sound Studios

and Greg Frey is brilliantly smart, he went to Princeton, he is

fabulous

at what he does, he’s got a great ear, he works quickly, and he knows

when to interject his opinion and when to shut-up. Between Greg and

Ralph, my producer, we had a great balance of ears."

While admiting that songwriting is something that she

"just has to do," Hill claims to have a love-hate relationship

with the entire process of songwriting.

"In a way, I really hate writing," she says. "The process

is so difficult. You get excited because you get something going and

all of a sudden it just fizzles. I have four lines of a song that

I wrote a long time ago, I just love them. But no matter how hard

I try, I just can’t seem to write a song around these four lines.

Finally I wind up saying to hell with it — but someday I’ll do

it."

Hill usually begins a song by first writing the bulk of a song’s

lyrics

and then methodically searches for an appropriate melody. While the

process can be slow and arduous, every once in a while lightning

strikes.

"One of the songs on the album, `Pain All The Same’ just came

to me in the middle of the night," says Hill. "I keep a

notepad

by my bed, and I often wake up and jot a phrase or two down. But this

time the song woke me up and said `get your damn guitar.’ I got up,

wrote the whole song, and crawled right back into bed. The next

morning,

when my husband asked me how I slept, I said, `I think I wrote a song

last night.’ And the thing is, `Pain All the Same’ is the best

constructed,

most organic song I’ve ever written. It just flowed from some place

that I wish I could get to more often."

Hill was born in Plattsburg, New York. One of six children, her family

moved around often during her early years. "We lived in

Massachusetts,

Chicago, Virginia, Florida, and finally moved to New Jersey when I

was in the eighth grade," she says. Her father worked as a

newspaperman

for the Wall Street Journal before becoming what Hill calls "an

executive turn-around man. He would come into companies and kind of

turn them around. He’s a very smart man."

Her mother was 18 when she gave birth to her first child, Hill’s

oldest

brother, and she was in her mid-40s by the time she could get back

to her education, which she did at Rutgers. "My mother is

wonderful.

She wrote a book in the 1980s called `The Corporate Wife,’" says

Hill. "She had an agent and everything, but the book didn’t sell.

It was kind of a manual on how to be a corporate wife, and by the

’80s women didn’t want to be corporate wives, they wanted to be the

corporation. So her timing wasn’t so good. But she’s writing a novel

now."

If talent can be inherited, Hill believes she received her musical

ability from her mother. "My mom’s a singer and plays piano,"

says Hill. "I grew up singing Irish songs, Catholic hymns, and

show tunes at the piano with her. I’d just sit with her, turn the

pages and sing."

Hill attended Rider and graduated in 1981 with a degree in business

administration. She worked at Dow Jones for several years before

deciding

the business track was not for her. It was a natural, she says, that

she married guitar player Mark Hill from a rockabilly band in which

they both played.

"My husband and I got married and I started having babies very

quickly," says Hill. "After the second one was born I decided

to stay home. Fortunately, my husband had a good enough job that

allowed

me to do that." Married 19 years, husband Mark Hill continued

to perform, intermittently, for many years. But now he is strictly

a commercial real estate broker, and they are the parents of three

children.

Now that their children have reached the teen years, Hill has once

again been able to devote more energy to her music. While she hopes

for as much success in the music business as possible, she is still

able to keep her priorities in line.

"My priority is still my kids, but now that they’re big, I can

explore my boundaries a little bit more," says Hill. "But

up until now, I didn’t feel that was the right thing to do. If I had

knocked on doors and done more touring earlier on, maybe I would have

been further ahead than I am, but that was just not a concern for

me. What I’ve gotten from my kids, even just in terms of my

songwriting,

is priceless."

While she expresses an admiration for music artists like Madonna who

are able to focus on their careers with an eagle-eye and achieve

success

at seemingly any cost, Hill sees the importance of embracing the

vagaries

and contradictions of life.

"I don’t know if music is something that I’m supposed to be doing

for the rest of my life or not," says Hill. "Who knows what

life has to offer? I just know it is what I’m supposed to be doing

now. I want to make the most of what I’m doing, make the best music

I can, and take it as far as I can. I feel lucky. I’ve met a lot of

rich people who’ve come up to me and said, `I wish I was doing what

you’re doing.’"

— Jack Florek

Maggi Hill, Conduit, 439 South Broad Street,

Trenton,

609-656-1188. Ernie White Holiday Party extravaganza features a rock

‘n roll party with guests that include Maggi Hill, Joe Zook, Paul

Plumeri, Diane Chiorello, Billy Hill Band, Lisa Bouchelle, John

Bushnell,

Joe Vadala, Glen McClelland, Bo Parker, Joe Grillo, Mike White, and

Chris White. Show benefits the Mercer Street Friends and the 9/11

Relief Fund. Sunday, December 23, 8 p.m.


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