Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Twenty feet from Judith Hill

By Sara Foss
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On Friday my friend Kim and I traveled down to Hudson to catch singer-songwriter Judith Hill at Helsinki Hudson.

Hill is not a household name, but people are becoming more familiar with her since her appearance on the reality TV show “The Voice” earlier this year and the documentary “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” in which she appears. “Twenty Feet From Stardom” tells the stories of back-up singers, and the difficulty they face becoming stars.

The film highlights the struggles of older artists such as Darlene Love and Merry Clayton, while also spotlighting the much younger Hill’s effort to make it on her own. Just 29, Hill suffered a big career setback when Michael Jackson died; she had been selected as his duet partner for his ill-fated This Is It tour, but gained worldwide attention when she performed at his memorial service. Hill comes across very well in “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” and I was interested to see her at Helsinki Hudson, an intimate, atmospheric venue with great acoustics. I’d guess that we were sitting about 20 feet away from her, which was a great place to be.

Hill sang a mix of originals and covers, and she sang them all with flair, accompanied by her terrific band. She was friendly and engaging and demonstrated incredible range. And she was adventurous. I can’t find a setlist, and I wasn’t familiar with most of the songs she sang, so I can’t tell you what they were. But I can report that Hill mixed genres effortlessly, swinging from jazz to pop to funk to rock and back again. Her talent, it’s clear, knows no bounds.

Kim and I agreed that Hill is still in the process of figuring out exactly what type of performer she wants to be. Hill has been touring with Josh Groban, and definitely appeals to the sort of adult easy listening audience that makes up his fan base. But her lively and unpredictable choice of music suggests that she’s a far more interesting performer, and has the potential to create more memorable music. Her songwriting was sharp, and fit in well with better known songs such as a dynamite rendition of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on and Open Fire).”

Will Hill ever become a star in her own right? Well, the jury is still out. “I feel like she could explode,” Kim said. I was more uncertain. After all, the world is full of brilliant musicians who never attained the fame and fortune for which they appeared destined.

Hill certainly has the chops to make it big, and maybe she will. I’m happy I got to see her in a small club, doing what she does.

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