I’d always wondered what a Hills Snyder song sounded like. About one year ago I asked Snyder, an artist, to create an altare to Doug Sahm for a Day of the Dead photography feature. Something just told me he was the man for the job. Not until we were driving out to the installation site did he tell me he also was a singer-songwriter. I asked where he played, and I’m pretty sure he said “my backyard.”
It’s not like Snyder hid his musicality. A link to his many songs appears on his web site. Several of his installation and performance art projects tie back to his six-verse murder ballad" Song 44". In fact, his latest show, The Casual Observer The Causal Observer `Ed. Note: that’s my best approximation of the title, not an error`, takes on verse one. This isn’t an art review, and I’m certainly not an art critic, so I won’t hazard a description of the artwork as a whole, but there is one nook in Blue Star’s expansive main gallery with two chairs, a bookshelf, and verse one printed neatly on the wall.
“I’ve written for my true love songs forty-three/
I wrote them on a banjo upon my bended knee/
but I could not play my instrument so they arrested me/
for scratching on that tightened skin my own filigree.”
It was here, in the teal “living room,” that Snyder played Thursday night with old friend and new musical collaborator Joe Reyes (Buttercup, Mitch Webb and the Swindles), just before the official opening of his exhibit. Unlike the thwarted banjo player, Snyder and Reyes breezed through 13 of Snyder’s songs. Reyes eased into a plush recliner with his Fender and a small FX pedal, while Snyder propped himself on a wooden chair too small for his six-foot-plus frame, left leg canted at a sharp 45 degree angle to properly cradle his acoustic Martin guitar.
Musically, the dual guitars, suitably muted for an art gallery performance, played traditional honky-tonk enhanced with a little pedal steel guitar approximation; the unadorned sounds of the West Texas plains, where a verse can resonate for miles. Afterward, Reyes, who just recently began playing with Snyder, said he gravitated toward Snyder’s naturalistic style. The simple rhythms make room for Snyder’s complex lyrics, less mysterious than his visual art, but layered nevertheless, and delivered in Snyder’s deep, twanged voice. Usually, the layers play for laughs with double entendres and witty puns, like in “Rope on a String” where Snyder sings, “She was the Eve in my everything” in a story of a happy love affair that devolves. By the end of the song, he notes, “It was on us, but now, it’s ennui.”
Snyder, along with Reyes and assorted musician friends, will host similar jams in Blue Star sporadically for the duration of his installation, which closes on November 6. He and Reyes plan to play next from 6:30-8pm Thu, Oct 21. For future gigs, check his Facebook page at facebook.com/hills.snyder. Be on the lookout also for Reyes-produced Snyder songs, to be recorded in the near future.
Hills Snyder and Joe Reyes
Thu, Sat 30
116 Blue Star