Hillary Dumoulin – Fools Gold – Album Review
True story…I’ve been looking forward to talking about this artist for quite some time now.
In the summer of 2019, I had the chance to see Hillary Dumoulin play a show live when she shared a stage on a tour through the east of Canada with our good friend & fellow artist Kerry Jayne at a place called The Rainbow Bistro. My wife and I showed up early…Hillary was actually the first person we ran into, though we didn’t know who she was…yet. That was certainly about to change. After a solid set from Missy Knott, Hillary took the stage in a two-person duo…and unleashed a powerfully soulful voice that both captivated through her tremendous talent, and charmed us with her humble performance. To the point where we got off our asses and did the right thing the moment her set was finished – my wife and I instantly went over to the merch table and bought ourselves two discs from Dumoulin’s catalog. In fact, I’m looking at one of them right here, right now – it’s the self-titled EP she put out in 2016.
See? I ain’t lyin. That’s me! I’ve been listening since I first saw her…because Hillary really is a genuine gem from the independent scene that creates songs you can’t take your ears off of. What about that other record though right? I mentioned I bought two – and the other one is actually newer…it’s called Fools Gold, which was released about two years later in 2018…whatever happened to that album?
Well you see dear readers, dear friends…that’s the thing – I wasn’t the only fan that Dumoulin gained that day with her performance at The Rainbow Bistro – my wife was arguably even more into her music than I was. As it turned out, she was heading out on a road trip for work the next day afterwards…and before I even had a chance to rip a digital copy of Fools Gold to my collection so I could enjoy it while she was gone, my wife snagged Hillary’s CD to listen to as she traveled to Toronto. SPOILER ALERT – she loved everything she heard…and according to her, it was the only disc she listened to as she drove around on that trip in a rental car. We’ve been married for twelve years and together for sixteen…I’ll take her at her word…she seems like a fairly trustworthy kind of person at this point…I had no reason to doubt her. Plus, I loved what I heard from Hillary LIVE – so how could she be wrong? In this day & age of so many great songs coming & going – you gotta recognize the commitment of any fan out there willing to buy your music…that’s them saying “I wanna keep this moment, music, and memory with me for the rest of time” – when you’re moved enough to go buy something these days, that’s actually quite a significant sign of something special, in my opinion. I knew that Hillary was gonna knock Fools Gold straight outta the park with the talent she’d already shown from the stage, and I was freakin’ STOKED that my wife was finally back home so that I could finally have a listen for myself after being deprived.
There was just one problem. She brought home the COVER, but not the actual DISC – she left that in the rental car. What a crime! Damn near divorce worthy I tells ya…it’s a good thing I love my wife as much as I do. On the bright-side, we both smiled a little bit as we laughed all this off…so maybe we would have to get ourselves another copy one day – someone else out there, randomly got introduced to the music of Hillary Dumoulin…and hopefully, they became every bit as much of a fan as my wife and I are. Let that be a lesson to you all…there’s a million ways to spread the word about great music, even if they’re not always intentional. I was fine to give up the disc for the possibility of gaining her a new fan. Hillary fully deserves all the success in the world if you ask my ears; she’s a genuinely fantastic talent.
The album begins with the dusty atmosphere of its title-track, with “Fools Gold” creeping up on you slowly, letting the eeriness of the melody seep into your soul before the music expands to open up & let a little more light in. There’s a haunting aspect to the music & words of this first cut that you can’t help but notice – and combined with the soulful tones of Hillary’s voice from the boldness of her lead to the dreamy background vocals, “Fools Gold” hangs in the air like wisps of smoke, yet crushes you with the seriousness in the weight of the gravity this song has. There’s a heaviness to the mood of Hillary’s title-track, but it also sheds light on the soulful style she sings with and in the chorus, showcases her ability to take a melody in a noticeably different direction from where it all starts, yet still keep that flow sounding natural. “Fools Gold” smolders & burns with a whole set of complex thoughts, feelings, and emotions fueling the lyricism – and through Dumoulin’s exceptionally restrained & low-key performance, she maximizes the power this song contains by ensuring each of the dynamic elements of the music are used to help bring the meaning to her words straight to the surface. The end results become a haunting mix of melancholy that sticks right to your bones…”Fools Gold” is the kind of tune you can genuinely feel, and you end up sinking right into this somewhat downtrodden vibe like it’s a musical form of quicksand. Dumoulin is much more soulful than something like the Cowboy Junkies when it comes to how she sings – but in terms of the slow crawl through poetically bold imagery & music go, the comparison is valid. There is a risk to having this cut up front on the record when it comes to the pace, space, & atmosphere – it presents a seriousness & weight that people will immediately have to reckon with, but the flipside of that coin is that “Fools Gold” also gives the album the room it needs to expand & evolve before our ears.
She also kinda reminds me of Dolores O’Riordian at times as well with the way that Hillary chooses to let her vocals break stylistically into falsetto…listen to a track like “Ever Since” and you’ll hear where the similarities exist. I dig it when Dumoulin kicks-in to that extra gear…like when you listen to what she does around the 2:15 mark of “Ever Since” and basically right on through to the end of the song – it’s awesome to hear her summon that extra power and surge with such confidence, but it’s also remarkable to hear just how unwavering her vocal tone is and how professionally she controls the energy as well. In that respect, “Ever Since” builds on the structure & flow of Fools Gold right away, injecting more pep in the step of this second tune and slightly breaking out from under the giant cloud that shrouded the mood of “Fools Gold” – though it’s also clear from the lyrics that the emotional storm itself has not yet passed. For better or for worse, for good or for ill, Hillary details her words with a grounded reality & objectivity that I think a lot of people out there will be able to identify with, and appreciate. There’s comfort in the way communicates…you feel like you can relate to the emotion she puts into her lyrics, and quite often the words themselves – but there’s also real strength you can hear in a song like “Ever Since” that is bound to provide hope, strength, confidence, and courage to someone out there when they need it most as well. By baring her own scars & experiences in such a bold, truthful, and unapologetic way…by exposing her vulnerability & hardest times, she’s giving others out there listening a light in the dark. Whether it’s all truly real or whether it’s all clever songwriting is nearly irrelevant – Hillary’s vocals come out with the conviction it takes to make each word she sings become as real as the nose on your face. “Ever Since” is a hard reminder that sometimes something that’s broken might just be meant to stay that way…and when it comes to love, that can be a tough concept to accept, especially when you’re right in the moment. This song will reach out & tell ya that you’re strong enough to get past whatever it is you’re going through – just like it sounds Hillary did.
Where I think the degree of accessibility instantly comes up a couple notches, is on the third track from Fools Gold, called “Guts & Glory” – this is about as universal as a song can potentially be. The kind of song where, if ya don’t like it, it says a whole lot more about YOU than it does about the artist behind it all…”Guts & Glory” has a startling amount of single-worthy appeal and accessible sound. Vocally, it’s absolutely one of the most inspired & charming performances from Hillary that you’ll find on this album – you can literally & audibly hear her snap right out of the darkness and into the light on this third cut. You can’t argue with hooks like these, and you couldn’t ask any more from the main star of the show when it comes to the execution & performance here – “Guts & Glory” is the kind of song that’ll get noticed by everyone listening to the album and would also make a perfect gateway in for new fans. Sweet lightning in a bottle if you ask me – Dumoulin is mesmerizing, gorgeous, and graceful; she never leaves behind the bold attitude & deeper emotional-meaning within her lyricism, but she undoubtedly also focused on creating a melody that’ll speak to all the hearts & minds out there too. That’s right – you read that correctly – I said ALL the hearts & minds…not some, ALL. “Guts & Glory” is so remarkably inviting that you can’t help but fall right into the honey-trap that Hillary’s set for us all; and just like she’s assuredly planned, it’s the sweetness that draws you in, but it’s really the substance that keeps us there. This is the kind of cute, quirky, fun, and genuinely interesting Indie/Folk sound that could go on to really put Dumoulin on the map for many people out there though, make no mistake – there’s real power in the sweetness you’ll find on “Guts & Glory” – I’d be shopping this around to every show on network TV and shoving this at every independent movie producer I could find. Have a listen to it…you’ll get what I’m talking about…a song like this certainly stands on its own, but it could also verifiably make a scene from a movie or a montage easily go from good to great – either way, this is a real highlight early on in the lineup of Fools Gold & pretty much guaranteed to be a huge favorite amongst fans & new-fans alike.
Although it works with what’s essentially the opposite energy, I’d probably make a case for “OK Now” being every bit as single-worthy as “Guts & Glory” is if we’re talking about the strength of the hooks. All-around, I think she’s done an outstanding job on this tune…this is the kind of song you can really feel. A lot of that is due to the trembling mix of fragility & vulnerability that she sings with in the verses, a lot of the appeal is also due to the like…good lord…nearly like, Mazzy Star-like magic she finds in the chorus – “OK Now” makes spectacular use of its four-minutes in length and really expands the core ideas into a beautiful composition that has breathtaking layers of depth. I’ll say this…I think that any song coming after “Guts & Glory” would have had a tough time establishing itself in a listener’s mind as quickly and concretely – but I can’t imagine a cut with a better chance of cutting through all that than “OK Now.” It’s certainly not going to be the happiest track you’ll hear this year – but face facts, that’s not really what Hillary is going for in the heavy emotional themes lining the set-list of Fools Gold…”OK Now” is fully cohesive in the lineup of themes & songs on this record, and arguably one of its greatest strengths. A lot of that comes from the wide array of moods the music contains, a lot of that is due to the exceptionally radiant way that Hillary sings both the verse & chorus of this song…”OK Now” has one of my favorite progressions & structures, I absolutely adore the way this tune expands & blossoms as it plays on. A solid mix of melody, soul, and style – Dumoulin puts in a breathtaking performance on the chorus of “OK Now” and the deconstructed ending brings her isolated internalized feelings straight into the spotlight.
Here’s the thing…Hillary has the songwriting chops and talent it takes to really make this music thang a lifetime career…and you can hear that unmistakably on “Wrong About You” – that’s a hit-song, straight-up. What I personally like about it, is that “Wrong About You” really shines a spotlight on her hybrid sound and the effort she’s put into making each cut on this record not too much of any one direction. I hear her vocals, and I almost can’t believe she’s not a massive superstar in the Country-music world – because this track completely proves she could be. In fact, she might STILL be if the Country-music crowd gets a hold of this song anytime soon…this is pretty much made for that whole genre of fans. BUT…having said that…again…if it WAS truly too much into the roots of Country, I probably wouldn’t have come out feeling nearly as attached to this track as I genuinely AM…so take that to heart. Like I was saying…she’s really ensured the crossover appeal of her music by diversifying what’s included in the melody, structure, songwriting, and sound. All I’m saying is that you can hear she’s got everything the Country crowd would wanna hear…if anything, I’m impressed that she’s somewhat chosen to rebel against what might be an easier route for her to the top of the charts…I think she deserves real credit for creating a more inclusive, artistic, & versatile sound for herself to thrive inside of, that’s bound to appeal to a much larger audience without alienating anyone in the process. Y’all know that ain’t easy to do. In any event, she’s done a wonderful job of pulling in people that would be on the fringe or the fence like I would be – “Wrong About You” was one of the most pleasant surprises on the album in terms of what I might not have expected to enjoy as much as I did. Still as heartbreaking, observant, and insightfully sweet as Hillary’s music so often is for sure…but definitely a surprise in how much the style & sound connected here…it’s a stellar example of how it’s impossible to deny great songwriting when it exists, no matter what genre you’d consider a cut like “OK Now” to be part of…a great song is a great song, period.
Full of regrets and late-night emotion, Hillary crushes through the conversation of a late-night phone-call and mistakes that have been made…ones that could clearly cost her the love she’s in on “Tough Act To Follow.” Interesting cut! In a few ways, I think that the more straightforward nature of the sound of this song and the catchiness it has in its main hooks might lead some people away from the lyrics and how deep this track really goes, but hopefully as they repeat their way through the record they’ll take notice of the exceptional craft that Hillary’s put into this cut. Personally, I think it’s a brilliantly honest and direct tune…Dumoulin’s not making excuses, she’s owning up to her part in the breakdown of a relationship, or at the very least writing from that perspective. And as such, the title itself becomes a kind of plea for forgiveness, or perhaps a dose of necessary realism…that even with the ultimate of mistakes being made, the love she’s found with this other person would indeed be a “Tough Act To Follow” – and more or less makes that the case for everything else beforehand to be reconsidered. Or at least that’s what I’m getting out of these words…Dumoulin’s a complex character when it comes right down to it, and she often writes lyrics with multiple meanings to begin with…you factor in how we all internalize what we hear and relate it to our own lives, and who knows – you might feel like it’s about something totally different altogether. While I do think there’s a little less identity in the sound of a song like “Tough Act To Follow” in terms of tagging it specifically to Hillary in comparison to many of the other cuts on Fools Gold – I think it’s also a track that’s bound to find immediate acceptance in all ears.
When you hear “Heart & Soul,” you’ll understand why the hit-counts out there reflect the people listening to this catchy & soulful cut a bit more, given the high-degree of accessibility & crossover sound she puts on display here. When they say ‘cast a wide net’ with your art, this is a perfect example; there are elements of Country, Pop, Rock, Folk, Indie…Hillary’s in hybrid-mode here, and working within the framework of a throwback hippie-vibe on “Heart & Soul” that absolutely hits the mark for me. It was almost like…like if you can imagine what taking the core essence of the comforting sound in a Blind Melon melody, with the confidence & craft of a real timeless veteran like Bonnie Raitt…somewhere in the middle of all that awesomeness, you end up with a song like “Heart & Soul.” I’d never downplay the impact she is capable of creating in the most serious of moods like she has with “Fools Gold” or “OK Now” – but when she does infuse a bit more energy into the vibe, like here on “Heart & Soul” or on “Guts & Glory” beforehand, the results are overwhelmingly positive and unmistakably accessible. If you’ve ever had the privilege of hearing a band like K’s Choice in an acoustic setting…you could probably draw a few similarities between the amazing Sarah Bettens and the way Hillary Dumoulin sings…listen to moments like the breakdown…listen to the controlled & fragile crack in her voice and the bold strength of how she confidently rebounds with such exceptionally soulful tones and heartfelt lyricism. Another really strong song on Fools Gold, “Heart & Soul” reveals how endearing the music of Dumoulin can be.
In her storytelling style, Hillary digs in deep into sentimental & sweetly detailed terrain in the tale behind “To You From Me,” creating quite the remarkable love-song when all is said & done. I dig the heaviness in the emotions you’ll find here…it’s a hard thing to explain in words…it’s that feeling we feel when we see a scene in a movie, hear that moment in a song we connect with, or even better – experience it in life for ourselves…where you just know the weight of that moment will make an impact on you for the rest of time. I suppose sincerity is the word that sums it up best…that’s what makes “To You From Me” sparkle & shine as beautifully as it does…it’s very subtle, organic, and all-out powerfully moving – what’s even more incredible is how naturally suited this whole song seems to be to Hillary. She’s kickin’ it in a Country/Folk style for sure, but it sure serves her strengths, and man does she deliver when it comes to making the most of the hooks on “To You From Me” – it’s completely due to her voice and the way she sings this song that makes it connect as strong as it does. The drums, guitars, bass…all that has been 100% in-line and on-time throughout this entire album & deserves a lot of credit for being as stoic, reliable, and entertaining as it’s all been on Fools Gold; sometimes it just takes a bit more of a laid-back vibe like this song has to really allow yourself to sit back & examine just how many strengths there really are on this record. The distant harmonica and the crispness of the drums really count in the mix of what you’ll hear on “To You From Me” – but as excellent as any one element of the music may be, the performance that Hillary puts in from the microphone on this song is by far its biggest appeal.
What goes up, must come down, as they say…and “Without You” expresses a whole set of different emotions than we’ve experienced in the previous couple cuts beforehand…but at the end of the day, you could argue that the sadness on display might be more beautiful than any of the happier cuts you’ll find. Track after track, Dumoulin has proven her extraordinary capabilities as a songwriter – and ultimately, I think she’ll give you many highlights as a performer on “Without You” as well; I’d argue it’s a more artistic & challenging song for the average everyday listener to fully absorb on just a couple spins perhaps, but what Hillary comes up with on this track is both ambitious and stunningly well-designed. Nostalgically reflecting on past love…”Without You” can be as heartbreaking as a song can get as Hillary examines the pitfalls of relationships and time…but I’ll be damned if the sparkle & shine in the chorus and the songwriting isn’t worth going through every tear you might shed. She makes really fantastic decisions as a singer in how she chooses to approach her melodies and sing them…stylistically, she’s confident & bold in the lead – and like, LISTEN to the magic she’s creating in the background layers will ya? Don’t miss out…listen good, listen close – because there’s no doubt you’ll catch the awesomeness Hillary provides you with on the surface, but like on “Without You” and in many of these tunes, it’s the attention to detail in the background layers and what she’s doing in behind the lead that stack up to give these moments the juice to make the memorable impact the writing deserves.
The final song, “Curtains,” introduces us to the vocals of Brandon Humphrey…whom…if I’m not mistaken, is the dude that was up on stage with Hillary that day we saw her at The Rainbow Bistro. I’m pretty convinced from both sound & style when I listen to this tune…had to be the guy. In any event, everything I saw from the duo on stage that day was exceptional – and true to the rule, this acoustic-based melody in “Curtains” sure brings me right back to the harmony & magic that made me love Dumoulin’s music from the very first moment I heard it. Humphrey has a fantastic voice of his own…and I think what you hear in “Curtains” is the sound of inspiration inspiring even MORE – it’s likely because Brandon puts in such an excellent performance of his own, that Hillary rises to the occasion, and perhaps even exceeds expectations with her own vocals at the very end of the album here. Exquisite tones, beautiful melody, and great dynamics in the songwriting lead them through peaks & valleys of energy that ebb & flow by design…”Curtains” is the conclusive ending and brilliant finale that you wanted to hear on Fools Good. Personally, I’m all about it…believe it or not, I’m as objective as I have always been in examining this record – Hillary’s just that talented and a genuinely award-worthy singer/songwriter…songs like “Curtains” simply confirm that fact one last time before this album’s all over. But you can hear in her voice that she’s got wonderfully soulful tones and a variety of options for her future…she could go the unique Regina Spektor route if she wanted to, or she could go full-on commercial Country and create the next anthem for Monday-night football even…the possibilities for talent like this, are essentially limitless. Heck – I’ve even seen her take on “Shallow” by Lady Gaga LIVE and completely CRUSH IT for every sweet morsel of melody that song has to offer, every bit as confidently as LG herself does – I know firsthand that Hillary’s got the skills, ability, and talent, to really make it in this industry. She’s just gonna get even better from here…that’s the kind of artist she is, I’d put money on it. She’s already great, but she really is just gonna continue to dial in to her creativity & craft…and I’d bet she’ll go on to put out tunes highly worthy of your time, each and every time she makes an album. Combined with Humphrey on “Curtains,” the duo makes magic out of this last track on Fools Gold, and they give you every audible incentive your ears could possibly need to want to repeat this whole experience all over again – and if that isn’t what you want outta your final moments on a record, I don’t know what else it could be. She’s got real star-quality…there ain’t no doubt about it.
Keep your eyes & ears out for some more of her music popping up at our pages this month…I might just have a lil’ something special in-store for ya later on in March…just sayin.’ Until then, be sure to find out more about Hillary Dumoulin at her official homepage at: https://hdumoulin6.wixsite.com
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