Now, you might think it’s a little odd for me to be doing a music album review here on a metal detecting blog, but this one’s completely relevant: I’m reviewing Whit Hill’s “I Dug It Up,” a collection of thirteen songs all inspired by her experiences as a metal detectorist. Yes, really!
Whit Hill is a Renaissance woman and someone I’m lucky to call a respected acquaintance, if not yet a friend (we’ve never met in person and live hundreds of miles apart). If you’re a serious metal detectors — woman or man — you need to know about her album, “I Dug It Up.” For a while, the title track was used as the intro to American Digger Magazine’s Relic Roundup Radio Show.
“I Dug It Up” was released in November, 2015 on Whit’s own label.
As Whit says, metal detecting is “not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle.” And she’s incorporated that into a life busy with dancing, writing, singing and playing her guitar. And how lucky for all of us that she has!
What a treat she has gifted us with, in her CD devoted solely to songs inspired by metal detecting. Though it certainly does reference the hobby, and diggers will delight in the vocabulary and occasional in joke, truly this album is not just for diggers. It’s for anyone who appreciates history, beautiful melodies, rich harmonies, clever lyrics, masterful musicianship on the part of everyone in Whit’s band — The Postcards — and just damn good storytelling.
One could be forgiven for expecting this Nashville-based singer/songwriter to have filled the disc with country tunes, but that expectation is dashed with the first number, “I Dug It Up.”
The title track is a groovin’ rockabilly number with some great ironic lyrics and satisfying guitar riffs. It records the progression of a digger who tries to gift some of her best finds to her sweetheart, only to realize he not only doesn’t appreciate them, but in fact, doesn’t deserve them. The sly lyrics take a listen or two to fully appreciate, with a few well-placed double entendres.
This is followed by “This Was A Battlefield,” an abrupt change of pace, a slow, respectful musing. It skips between the present day in its stanzas and the past in its chorus, reminding us that beneath the scurry and surface gentility of modern life lie the violence and brutality of battlefields, whose blood can never sink deep enough into the soil for us to be allowed to forget the sacrifices made there.
The beat is more lively with “Robins,” a paean to Whit’s grandmother. In this slow two-step, she draws a parallel between her grandma’s hands in the dirt as a gardener, with robins following to pluck worms in her wake, and her own digging for buried treasure, birds following her for the same reason. It’s a jaunty little tune with the potential to become an ear worm if those kinds of songs tend to stick with you…sweet, simple and delightful.
The next track is probably my favorite, both as a digger and a music appreciator. “How’d This Get Here?” is a perfect showcase for Whit’s singular sense of humor and her skills as a songwriter, not to mention the very able musicianship of everyone in the band. From its syncopated beat that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever heard a German “oompah” band, to its beautiful three-part harmonies, this song is deceptively challenging musically. But it is truly funny, even to the non-digger, due not just to its smart, sassy lyrics but also its timing and delivery. My favorite line is about the finding of buckles: “Did belts fall off? Did pants fall down?”
The beat slows a bit with a true country two-step lament, “Can Slaw,” which even for the uninitiated requires no explanation. Her ode to the nasty underground shrapnel is great, and captures the frustration and annoyance of any digger who has ever encountered it. I absolutely adore the opening line: “Evil little morsels…” Warning: There is cursing in the chorus. If you find it offensive, there’s a “cleaner” version on the YouTube video of Whit’s CD release party, but I prefer the honesty of the original. Still, I recommend giving that a watch and listen, to enjoy the great between-song patter that is both entertaining and enlightening.
“Triune,” the next track, is another lament; a beautiful tune that embodies the sadness of war in a slow waltz that is most affecting when it’s at its most spare: just Whit’s simple guitar strumming and voice backed by the regimental beat of an unadorned snare drum. It’s both love story and tribute, and musically one of the finest songs on the album. It’s also a testament to Whit’s songwriting prowess, that she can write such a touching song from the point of view of an inanimate object, and pull it off.
The mood picks up considerably with the next track, “Dig That Dime, Daddy.” A great ballad that gallops along like the best minor-keyed country & western ties from the likes of Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, this song tells the story of a friendly but very real rivalry between a father and daughter digging team. Featuring some accomplished guitar picking and fiddle sawing by Whit’s husband Al Hill and another band member respectively, and more great harmonizing by Whit and the other two vocalists, it’s another ear worm that will hang on to your brain long after it has ended.
“He Likes To Stand On Bridges” slows things down again, with another spare arrangement of Whit’s vocals accompanied only by Al’s restrained piano playing. Also a ballad, this one’s in the musical vein of some of the soft pop hits of the late 70s and early 80s, but its lyrics are more complex and smarter. Really listen to the words to this one to appreciate its magic.
“The Old Digger” is a respectful dirge, imagining what it must be like for a metal detecting enthusiast to pass over to the other side. A beautiful, slow waltz, it’s a sweet tribute that could only have been written by one who deeply understands this hobby and the people who indulge in it. I could see this becoming a drinking song in the right circles, and I say that with the utmost respect.
Whit wrote the next song for her husband, who has been very supportive of what she refers to as her metallurgical obsession. “You’re A Saint” is a hilarious take on the very real ways in which family members can be affected by a digger’s devotion to their hobby. The instrumental bridge features a beautiful fiddle solo, reminiscent of shuffles such as “San Antonio Rose.”
Whit co-wrote “Don’t Dig Today” with Al. He plays a mean dirty blues piano and sings solo on this beseeching tune, in which a lonely guy begs his girl not to go out in the fields to indulge in metal detecting. Does she relent and stay home with her man? You’ll just have to listen to find out.
The next track hikes up the tempo again with the funniest tune in the collection, “Aluminum Foiled Again.” Spot-on lyrics were written by Butch Holcombe, publisher of American Digger, the best magazine in the hobby. Whit set those words to a rousing two-step that showcases the deep talent of the band, and provides a perfect pick-me-up from the previous somber track.
The last track, “Ghosts,” was inspired by some personal experiences Whit has had, and its haunting melody fits perfectly. Whit challenges her vocal range, providing just the right amount of pathos to put us in the right frame of mind to feel her reverence for the souls who have passed over among the historic relics she digs. This is the kind of song you play on a foggy day, staring out the window with a glass of wine in one hand, petting your cat with the other, and really listening to the words.
There’s no part of this production that’s less than top-flight professional, and that includes the CD jacket design. Impeccably in tune with Whit’s personality, self-effacing sense of humor and the music’s subject, it’s a beautiful thing to behold, and a pitch-perfect package for these baker’s dozen songs. Versatile and pleasantly diverse in style, this CD would be a truly thoughtful gift for your favorite digger, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself putting it on even when they’re out detecting, because it has grown on you.