Detroit Free Press: December 5, 2003

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December 5, 2003
The lowdown: Whit Hill has made Ann Arbor her home for nearly 25 years, give or take a few sojourns to the East coast, and she pays metro Detroit back with plenty of local references in her storytelling, alt-country tunes.

Phase one of the native New Yorker’s professional life began as a dance major at the University of Michigan — where she roomed with a young woman from Rochester who soon moved to the Big Apple and dropped her given surname of Ciccone — which Hill parlayed into choreography gigs and her own dance company.

Phase two has been underway for several years now, as she has dropped the dancing and changed her night job to singer-songwriter. (Hill’s days are spent as a writer for the U-M Medical School’s development department.) Along with backing band the Postcards, which includes well-known local bluesman Al Hill, her country-tinged, quirky-but-sincere narratives often recall Shawn Colvin with a better, more absurd sense of humor, or a smooth-voiced Lucinda Williams.

The lineup: Solo performances aren’t unusual for Hill, who has performed in backup bands for years, but she mostly appears with the Postcards.

The band includes bass player Patrick Prouty and drummer Tim Gahagan along with Hill, who plays keyboards and guitar as well as maintaining a full-time job as Whit’s Hill’s husband of nine years. Their first album, the entirely entertaining “We Are Here,” was released Oct. 9 on Home Run Records. (Neither Prouty or Gahagan played on the album; their predecessors have since moved to Nashville.)

Southern roots: Though she was born and raised in New York City, Hill can’t escape her Southern past: a mother from Mississippi and an Armenian dad from a “ghost town” in West Virginia. “They were both renegade actor types who wanted to get out of where they were and go to New York,” she says. Their genetic material clearly rears its head in Hill’s music. “You never know if how you turn out is because of how you are or how you were raised, but it seems like a really good fit for the kind of person that I am to be born into a really wordy, arty, performance kind of family,” she says. “It wasn’t a stretch for me.”

Hill grew up performing and dancing, attending New York’s High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts, but she’s found her own version of that slow, Southern style in Ann Arbor: “I loved the city growing up, but, man, the minute I got out of there, the exposure to the seasons and to green things and quiet and having a garden — to me it feels like the country. I hear crickets. It’s really funny, but I never miss the city.”

Going to the dogs: One of Hill’s most recent headlining appearances was at a “Howl-oween” benefit for Ann Arbor’s Canine Social Club, a nonprofit that is trying to bring a legal dog park to the community.
Hill, who has a 1-year-old Rottweiler mix named Dinah, says she became a dog person only recently. “My kids are older and I just wanted somebody to take care of. I didn’t have enough projects in my life,” she jokes.

Live: Whit Hill and the Postcards open for the Orbitsons at 11 p.m. Saturday at the Music Menu, 511 Monroe, Detroit. 313-964-6368. $5. She’s also one of several acts playing Dec. 21 at the Annual Concert for Peace at the Ark, 316 S. Main, Ann Arbor. 734-761-1451.

By Erin Podolsky, Free Press special writer

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