Abby Hamilton

REVIEW: Abby Hamilton “#1 Zookeeper (of the San Diego Zoo)”


Abby Hamilton – #1 Zookeeper (of the San Diego Zoo)

Kentucky just won’t stop with the new musicians. From stadium-fillers Chris Stapleton and Tyler Childers to up-and-comers like Kelsey Waldon and S.G. Goodman, the Commonwealth is providing Americana and country fans with some of the best songwriters working today. Making a bid to join that list is Abby Hamilton. The Nicholasville, Kentucky native brings plenty of Bluegrass State heartbreak, radio-friendly twang and burgeoning maturity to her debut, #1 Zookeeper (of the San Diego Zoo).

The title of #1 Zookeeper (of the San Diego Zoo) refers to things we’re traditionally taught to be important that end up being not nearly as vital as we’ve been told. It’s a realization that only living life will teach you, and that grudging maturity is the theme of many of Hamilton’s songs. Lead track “Lucky” features a young woman trying to live her dream – “Sings her songs in airport bars” – but not nearly on the scale she’d imagined, supplementing her tip-based income with trips to the horse track and, after failing there, the lotto vendor. What begins as a simmer becomes a powerful chorus – “Don’t drop me on a limb/Just to watch it break” – that reflects the struggle for independence faced by pretty much any young adult.

Hamilton takes a more somber look at that sense of displacement in “Baby Let’s Ride.” Paced by keys and pedal steel, the singer, maybe a little more grown-up – “You hold your own and step in line/For the sake of bills to pay” – but with intensified desperation – “Have you ever tried going’ 92/Just because you don’t think the world needs you?” – attached to those dead-of-night thoughts. Likewise, the acoustic-led “Mayday” has Hamilton seeking a present apart from the one she’s in – “You feel like a different life.”

The title track begins as a half-sung, half-spoken reflection on the ghosts of a recently buried relationship – “Some kid was out there playing guitar/Singing ‘If I Needed You’/And it hit me, all my favorite bands/Were the ones you me listen to” (admit it – we’ve all been there). As she spirals, Hamilton imagines all the ways in which her “replacement” bests her (again – same) while trying to survive and push past. Album wrapper “Displacer” has her – maybe – turning that corner. Against piano and eerie western guitars, Hamilton resolves to find the importance in her own life – “Won’t be a dashboard chaser/Can’t be my own displacer/I’ll fit the pieces and find a thesis/For my troubled mind.” It’s what some of us might call growin’ up. And, on her debut album, Abby Hamilton provides a fresh perspective on that process of personal growth.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “#1 Zookeeper” has all the relatable pathos of a hundred busted-up relationships, plus soaring vocals and a whole mess of guitars at its climax.

1 Zookeeper (of the San Diego Zoo) was produced, mixed and engineered by Duane Lundy and Justin Craig and mastered by Justin Perkins. Musicians on the album include Abby Hamilton (vocals, acoustic guitar), Justin Craig (drum programming, Fender Rhodes, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums, bass, keys, percussion, background vocals), Zach Martin (drums), Carson Childers (bass), Robert Lee Carroll (piano, keys), Zack Hamilton (electric guitar, background vocals), Ryan Anderson (background vocals), Duane Lundy (percussion, baritone guitar, Moog), Alex Munoz (electric mandolin guitar), J. Tom Hnatow (pedal steel), Tripp Bratton (drums, percussion) and Aubrey Richmond (violin).

Go here to order #1 Zookeeper (of the San Diego Zoo) (out October 13):

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