Shelter from the storm: Garage founder branches out

Don’t worry, nobody’s abandoning the one-car shelter on 1st Street that also happens to be the most charming outdoor music space in Charlottesville. Hill and Wood main-mover Sam Bush is still there occasionally passing out hot cider to folks gathered on the knoll in Lee Park to watch local musicians and national touring acts perform from in the cozy space.

It's just that The Hill and Wood’s self-titled album features an aesthetic far removed from any low-fi garage vibe that one might expect from a debut record, especially by the casually scruffy, acoustic guitar-toting Bush.

Mention the 25-year-old Bush to members of Charlottesville's arts community and two things come up: the performance space he helped establish while a UVA undergrad ("an incredibly sweet and sincere guy with an invaluable resource who uses it to make other artists feel at home," says video artist James Ford). And his Christianity.

So when Bush notes that The Hill and Wood's CD release show would take place at the Haven, a converted church that he says "still captures that sacred feeling which, kind of, like, gets you more tuned in to the show," it's natural to wonder whether religious themes will dominate the Hill and Wood's music.

Yes and no. As Bush puts it, "Whatever you're into is going to be part of your output."

But for Bush, religious themes are universal– how we move through the world, how we engage those close to us. The album doesn't succumb to the noxious Hallmarkisms that plague most of the music carrying the appropriately anodyne "Christian Contemporary" label. These are intricate compositions– exploratory, and definitely not numbingly banal wallpaper that does your listening for you.

Nor does The Hill and Wood truck in solo singer-songwriter acoustica, although most of the songs began that way. Bush brought his originals to producer Isaac Wardell and mixer Alex Foote, who offered suggestions on structure and arrangement. It's a group effort. Foote and Chris Campanelli supply keening steel and slide guitars; VCU grad Brian Caputo adds nestling– not drowning– percussion, and UVA grad student Juliana Daugherty adds gorgeous vocal shading to Bush's breathy alto.

The results are lush, yet retain a homemade vibe. Simultaneously cinematic and intimate, it's not unlike a feedback-free flipside to Andrew Cedermark's excellent Moon Deluxe, which Bush calls a favorite.

Bush's voice can evoke Sufjan Stevens– with whom Wardell and Foote have worked– and The Hill and Wood also bring to mind Ben Kweller and Wilco. Now Bush and company are hitting the road, and it's hard to imagine the group won't burst into view. Fittingly, the tour capitalizes on the goodwill Bush and his comrades have shown out-of-town bands at The Garage. Now those bands have set up shows for the Hill and Wood in their own towns. Do unto others...
The Hill & Wood has its CD release party November 11 at the Haven.