Robust Records RBST015
Justin Hiltner makes his recording debut under his own name and in partnership with longtime co-writer Jon Weisberger onWatch It Burn, an album that’s more warm, inviting, and charming than burning. Hiltner shows off all three of his strengths as a songwriter, vocalist, and banjo player, while Weisberger plays bass and sings baritone, except for lead on “Half Of The Rest Of My Life.” Guest Tim O’Brien sings lead on “If I Were A Praying Man,” otherwise the lead singer is Justin. The two sets of three core musicians include Molly Tuttle and Tristan Scroggins. Thomm Jutz recorded and mixed the album.
“Watch It Burn” starts the album with a pace that matches its title. It also sets the standard of intelligent lyricism that distinguishes the album. That difference in the words, subtlety touching on issues, as in the groundbreaking “I’m Not In Love With You,” rarely aired in bluegrass, make Watch It Burndifferent from other projects played and sung exquisitely at the highest standards of the genre. The wry “If I Don’t Marry Molly I’ll Die” continues the uptempo approach of the title-track, but much of the recording is mellower—sometimes acoustic country, other times lovely bluegrass—while other songs are traditionally inflected, mid-tempo pieces.
Collaborators for seven years, Justin and Jon co-wrote all the songs except “General Kuster.” Brandon Godman, who fiddles on seven of the dozen tracks, composed the instrumental. This is mighty-fine music and a breakout for Hiltner. (Robust Records, 510 Meadowmont Village Cir., Chapel Hill, NC 27517, www.robustrecords.com.)AM