Surrender Hill Relinquish A Whole Lot of Freedom

Most music that falls under the “Americana” genre banner – which basically just amounts to earnest singer-songwriter fare in a woodsy bed of unobtrusive country-rock – sounds the same. And there are truckloads of people doing it. Including lots of couples. I guess it’s just unavoidable for a bunch of middle-aged songwriters. You’re playin’ little bars and listening rooms here, there and everywhere, and you happen to meet another attractive honey-voiced acoustic guitar strummer at some bar in some town…next thing you know you’re uncorkin’ bottles of wine and writing songs on the back porch together in between romps in the hay.

But I’ve heard so much of this sorta stuff that it takes a lot to really stand out to me in the Americana field. And in general it’s not the music itself that does it – it usually more the skill of the lyricist, or the voice, or something about the delivery, or the personalities involved, or some combination of all of that. And singin’/playin’ couples, they kinda tend to be the worst offenders with regard to sameness. I know they don’t realize it, but most of them are pretty much interchangeable. Maybe they’re just too comfortable together, and that contentment extends to their music, which often lacks tension or drama or restlessness or true hurt. As for the most successful and well-known country/Americana couples, there’s just a certain natural magic that sparked the chemistry of Johnny & June, or George & Tammy, or Buddy & Julie – and the truth is, most others don’t come anywhere close to that. It’s not really their fault, but they just don’t stand out.

Take North Georgia husband/wife duo Surrender Hill. I mean, there’s nothing bad about what they do. They can sing, they can play, they’re quite prolific and they can write passable songs. Probably really nice people. The male half of their equation, Robin Dean Salmon, is a well-traveled troubadour who fronted a rock band that also didn’t stand out – See No Evil, signed to CBS Records for two albums that failed to take off in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. On Surrender Hill’s fourth and latest album A Whole Lot of Freedom, he does a bunch of songs that more or less sound like variations of “Wagon Wheel,” although his high school reflection, “Badge of a Punk Rock Band,” is a winner. More appealing are the tracks sung by his wife, Afton Seekins, whose voice has a striking Stevie Nicks rasp to it that helps bring out the pop elements of their sound. Of course, they harmonize with each other throughout the course of the whole thing – which amounts to a whopping 18 cuts. Digital only, as far as I can tell, with Atlanta guitarist Jonathan Callicutt among the contributing musicians.

As with many other acts with springtime releases, their “release show” was brusquely postponed by the COVID outbreak. Originally scheduled for April 2 at Woodstock’s Madlife Stage & Studios, it’s been reset for August 27 at the same venue. Hopefully that one’ll stand firm.

Photo by Andrew Pollock.