Friday, June 14, 2019

The Western Union (Bill and Sue-On Hillman)

Let me preface this band by telling you how I ended up reviewing them. It all started when I was somewhere around 5 years old. My dad frequented the thrift store and would generally allow me to buy something as long as it wasn't too expensive. I have no clue what he was buying at the time, but I remember picking through the sleeveless albums at the thrift store. The only reason why I picked through the sleeveless ones is because I could see the color and logos on the record label because I didn't yet know how to read.

I ended up pulling out this record with an orange label and saw what was probably the coolest looking logo I had ever seen:

That was the album that would come home with me, and it was the first album by a band called The Western Union. The only thing musically appealing about this album (to my five year old ears) was the first three songs which were instrumentals. I didn't care much for country music when my musical interests mainly consisted of The Ventures, Elvis Presley, and The Care Bears. Since I was into The Ventures, the instrumental tracks were right up my alley, and these were the only three songs I had ever listened to on the album.

Now that I'm an adult and have a vast music collection, I think it's only fair to venture back to this album along with some of the band's discography and listen to it with my adult ears.

So here's why this band fits in with the rest of the content of this blog... The band is mainly from Brandon, Manitoba with the two main elements Bill and Sue-On Hillman sharing vocal duties. They apparently had their own TV show, and I'm guessing none of the episodes have been archived. They recorded their first album on a Ukrainian record label, and their first album was (from the band's opinion) a major fucking botch job.

So let's review this shit!


Every single song on this album is a cover song. The album starts out with a song called "Down On The Bayou". It's a cover, but it sounds absolutely nothing like the original song who's artist I care not to remember. But just listen to it! That big fucking thumping kick drum! It's awesome! You never hear anything like that in country music, especially country music recorded in the late 60s / early 70s. I loved the hell out of it when I was five years old, and would often stomp my feet along with the kick drum. So yeah, the first track gets a big thumbs up from me. But then there's the tape dropouts. The fact that's prominent on the recording right from the mastering plant means they used shitty tape stock, they recorded on used tapes, or both.

Track two is called "The Eight of January" (the "th" sound in the English language hadn't been invented yet). The monsterous kick drum is pulled back a bit, but it's still there, and this song has that awesome violin and electric guitar in it. Fantastic song!

Track three called "Twilight Waltz" is slower and kinda lame. It's okay, but I skip it when I'm not in the mood to cry or sleep.

The next three songs are somewhat forgettable with "Branded Man" being the best of them, but it's just okay. What makes these songs more interesting is the extreme presence of delay echo on absolutely everything! It's record mastering at it's worst, but you can't tell me that it's not interesting! I haven't listened to anything else in Galaxy's catalog (yet) to see if they give their other artists the same treatment, but I'm willing to bet they do.

When Sue-On takes over lead at the beginning of side two, we get a bit of a treat. The delay echo says it's here to stay, so you'd better get used to it! I absolutely adore the "Mom and Dad Waltz" and think Sue-On's voice really makes this one shine. It remains awesome with "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" although some asshole forgot to turn up the rest of the band, and decides to finally do it sixteen seconds into the song. What a dipshit. "Tiny Bubbles" is and always was a lame song, and there's nothing that great about it here.

On the last three songs, we have Bill showing off his guitar work. The delay echo has taken a coffee break for "Steel Guitar Rag" (which does absolutely nothing for me) but returns (albeit a little less prominent) for the next two songs. "Hideaway Louie" doesn't really do much for me even though it's a medley of popular songs. The star of Bill's three songs is "Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy" (although it's nothing to scream for ice cream over) and is the last track. You can really tell it's the last track because of all the tape dropouts in it. I'm guessing the guys at Galaxy Records only had one magnetic tape to record on, and simply recorded on it again and again each time they did a recording session.

The buzzing at the start and end of each track can't be the sound of crappy recording equipment. I'm convinced that there were insects buzzing around in the recording studio, although the band insists it was the recording equipment. C'mon! These are professionals! They wouldn't let that shit fly! Or would they?

This is the only album I'm doing a lengthy review on, simply because it's such a glorious mess. The band hated it and still pretty much trashes it to this day to the point where they barely want to acknowledge they recorded it, but it's obviously their best selling album of their entire discography because it's the most prominent one in the thrift stores. I think this album deserves some credit, because it kept them going for a very long time. And "Down On The Bayou" kicks some major ass.

Listen to Down On The Bayou
Listen to Silver Threads and Golden Needles
Download the whole album


Bill and Sue-On told Galaxy records to go fuck themselves for the shitty job they did on the first album, and they decided to start their own record label. Just like the first album the second album consists of nothing but covers. Personally, I think this is the weakest of the ones I'm reviewing, but it does have some bright spots.

Mississippi Line is a decent enough song to start the album off, but it's only kinda good. Following that, we have a lackluster 1950s rock & roll medley that I could do without. Kentuckian Song is some Hawaiian piece of crap that would put a dead man to sleep. Irish Scotch sounds exactly like what you'd expect from the title, and does absolutely nothing for me. After that, we have Raggedy Ann which will put the dead man's wife to sleep. Fiddle Duddle is missing the booming kick drum that would make it enjoyable.

Starting off Side B is You Were On My Mind which is decent enough with both Bill and Sue-On singing together, and it sounds pretty good. I Remember You has nothing over it's original counterpart. Maiden Prayer is another sleeper, but played on the fiddle and again with no booming kick drum. Put Your Hand In the Hand is an upbeat cover and it's just OK. The cover of Apache is actually really good and sounds very true to the original. To end off the album, we're putting the dead couple's dead children to sleep with the joined Sweet Dreams & Born To Lose

All in all, this is a pretty underwhelming album. I honestly would have like to see what the moron at Galaxy Records would have done to make it more "creative".

Listen to Muddy Mississippi Line
Listen to Apache
Download the whole album


Hey! What do we have here? Are they changing the name of the band to "Bill and Sue-On Hillman"? We also have some original material! And the originals for the most part are actually really good! Why in hell are they recording cover songs when they could be writing more kick ass tunes! Personally, I think this is their best album so far, so let's go over it...

The album starts off with a Bill Hillman original called "Blue Shallow River". Holy crap is this ever good! Sue-On leads the vocal and the decent production work on this one really makes it shine. Next is a cover of "Let It Be Me" and even though it's slow, the vocals shared by Bill and Sue-On are excellent. Next we have the Merle Haggard cover "Mama Tried" which is upbeat, fun, and the vocals are again shared by Bill and Sue-On. We slow it back down with Sue-On Singing "Help Me Make It Through The Night" which isn't extraordinary, but it's a decent enough song that doesn't suck. I honestly don't like the arrangement of their version of "Down In The Boondocks" and it's probably the worst one on this album. The side ends off with a slow but fantastic Bill Hillman original called "In Sadness" sung by Sue-On.

Side B starts off by punching you in your face because you're not up dancing yet even though the music has only begun. We have a catchy as hell Bill Hillman original called "Blues Round My Door" which is a damn fine piece of music. I originally thought the cover of "Green Green Grass of Home" was kinda lame until Bill comes in with an Elvis-like spoken part in it which suits the song very well. "Somewhere My Love" is a decent enough slow song, but I always thought it was a bad idea to follow one slow song with another slow song, so you might find yourself dozing off during this part of the album. The cover of "24 Hours from Tulsa" thankfully wakes you back up and you're greeted by Bill and Sue-On finally singing together again. We head into another Bill Hillman original called "2 Lovin' Arms" which is probably his weakest contribution to the album. The album ends off with "The French Song" which I know I've heard before. It's decent, but it kinda ends the album on a bit of a down side. Oh well, just flip it over and play "Blue Shallow River" again because it's worth hearing again.

Listen to Blue Shallow River
Listen to In Sadness
Download this really good album!


So what's the most logical thing to do after you put out your best album where your originals are the highlights? Put out a compilation album consisting of songs from albums 2 and 3! The album cover fools the buyer into thinking it's a live album by putting the phrase "On Stage" on the cover. For me, this is just a piss off. Apparently, the 5th album came out first and contains all originals (which I don't have yet), and even that one borrows the originals from the third album. I don't know why they did any of this. I generally don't like compilations unless it's rare shit or the band's career is pretty much done and over. However, if you want select songs from the last two albums that play just a little bit slower, this is the compilation for you and not me.

Download the whole album


I covered a bit of this compilation back during the Junq Tour from last year, but it's not a bad thing for me to touch on it again now that I'm more familiar with their work. It appears that this is a compilation of songs sung by Sue-On from albums 2,3, and 5. Compilations, compilations, compilations. Why make any entirely new albums when you can just make new compilations by recycling all your old stuff? From what I can tell, an album of entirely new material doesn't happen until the album called "The Hillman Express Track 15" which is documented as the 6th album. However, this compilation doesn't show up on their website and would logically be the 6th album considering the material included here.

Download the Sue-On Album

What I've noticed with these albums is the newer they are, the harder they are to find. Once (and if) I come across a few more, I'll be sure to cover them in detail once again. But for now, just download the 3rd one and enjoy the shit out of it, because that one's worth the bandwidth.

For the Junq tour this year, I'll be stopping over in Brandon and hopefully visiting the Chinese restaurant that Bill and Sue-On own (or owned - they're retired now) which should be an interesting journey!

Visit Bill & Sue-On's messy Geocities-esque website!

We shall see you in the next entry.

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