We tend to take for granted that what we’re told as kids is true. Eventually, as we mature, we’ll find that those myths, tall tales and half-truths aren’t as solid as we were led to believe, and we need to seek out our own truth. It’s part of growing up. New York-based band Heathcote Hill deals with that reckoning on their latest album, The Stories We Are Told.
Heathcote Hill is a collection of musicians from suburban New York, and their real-life experiences outside the music industry (many of the band members have children and “grown-up” jobs) contribute to the authenticity and believability of their songs. The title track, initially set on a solemn piano intro, mentions the rapt attention we give our elders when we’re young – “Tales of long ago/This is how we learn” – where good triumphs and evil gets its comeuppance. Well, we know now that’s rarely the case, and so does primary songwriter Tom Nelson, who realizes that the importance in those tales lies in what we take from them – “And as you go/What will you carry down this road?”
Truth (or lack of it) also pops up in “Hey,” one of the more country-ish tunes on the record, with some neat slide work (also Tom Nelson). The song addresses that most famous of false narratives – media reports and our reaction to them. Among the mentioned pitfalls are conspiracy theories, “fake news” and willful ignorance – “Did you hear about that speech the lady gave?/She told the truth, and people turned away/Well, it happens every day.” Wisely, Nelson’s lyrics place a large share of the burden on the consumer to be more discriminating – “You’d better find some truth, or you will fail.”
The Stories We Are Told also deals with less weighty (but just as relatable) topics. “You and Sunday Afternoon” is a 70s-ish, Mellotron-filled ode to a lazy day spent with the right company. “Everything Slipping Away” might be about the end of that day, a not-quite lullaby. And “Elegy for Mary Ellen” is an instrumental goodbye to Nelson’s good-hearted aunt. But the best song on the album is “The Rising Sea,” a pensive look at climate change and our failure to fix it. The track features a denser arrangement, complete with strings, and Megan Porcaro Herspring’s most soulful singing on the record. The fault isn’t with nature – “Can’t blame the temperature risin’/Something basic is broke” – but with us – “”Can’t fault the forests and rivers/We just did as we pleased.” It all goes back to the initial theme on the album – taking what we’ve been told, adding what we’ve learned along that way, and using it all to address our grown-up world. What will we carry down the road?
The Stories We Are Told was produced and mixed by Timothy Hatfield, mixed by Hatfield and Mauricio Cerosimo and mastered by Greg Calbi. Heathcote Hill is Megan Porcaro Herspring (vocals), Tom Nelson (guitars), Tory Ridder (drums and percussion), Akil Kadin James (bass), Mike Bishop (piano) and Vanessa Ridder (backing vocals). Additional musicians include Rob Arthur (organ, piano, mellotron), Sammy Merendino (drums), Rich Mercurio (drums), Steve Count (upright bass, cello), Amanda Homi (backing vocals), Neal Coomer (backing vocals), and Jim Nelson (electric guitars).
You can order The Stories We Are Told here: https://heathcotehill.bandcamp.com/album/the-stories-we-are-told