The Game is the sound of a band at the top of theirs. It was released on MDM Recordings through Conveyor/Universal Music Canada, on August 10th, 2010. It’s the keenly-awaited follow-up to Jo Hikk’s acclaimed full-length debut album, Ride, and it forcefully proves that the Calgary-based band belongs in the top tier of Canadian country music.
At the forefront of the Jo Hikk sound are the robust vocals of Kelly Sitter. It’s a voice you just know you can trust, and it’s equally at home on passionate ballads and driving country-rock tunes. It is always perfectly framed by the fluent and versatile guitar work of brother Kenny Sitter and the skilled accompaniment of two music veterans, keyboardist Don Jorgenson and drummer Al Doell.
With Ride, Jo Hikk scored hit singles with “Sweet City Woman” and “My Kind Of Radio”(both made the top #20!), while another key track, “Pimp My Tractor,” was placed on the Big Rock compilation. The success of Ride helped the band score nominations for Group or Duo of the Year and Rising Star at the 2009 CCMA Awards.
Rather than rest on their well-earned laurels, Jo Hikk got back to work, writing and recording for a sophomore album that marks a real creative progression. Whereas many artists are content to recycle the sound that first brought them success, Jo Hikk are unafraid to explore different terrain, lyrically and musically.
To Kelly Sitter, “The Game is completely different than the Ride album. I see The Gameas being lighter and more melodic. I have a big family, and I see it as a very family record. Nothing I wouldn’t want my kids to hear.” Kenny agrees, noting “it is definitely not as heavy as Ride.”
The songs on The Game almost exclusively focus on personal relationships. The subject of love, past and present, is treated with real insight, with a healthy serving of humour on the side. There’s the fun vibe of “Hippie Girl,” for instance, the tale of a patchouli-scented romance: “She’s all peace and love and harmony and all of that’s alright with me!” “The Big Spoon,” the first single and one notching impressive airplay, is an irresistibly catchy tune with a gently sexy feel (“we’ve got all this body heat and time to kill”). Then there’s “With A Smile Like That,” a string-fuelled ballad full of sweet sentiments.
All three of those gems were co-written by Kenny Sitter. Whereas Ride predominantly featured compositions from many different Canadian and Nashville songwriters, The Game primarily comprises songs written by Kenny and Kelly.
Kenny Sitter prefers to co-write with outside songwriting comrades, collaborating on six of the cuts here with noted Canadians Steve Fox, Troy Kokol and Julian Austin (for whom Kenny played guitar for three years). Kelly is more of a solitary scribe, and he comes up with a winner on the title track. “I don’t write from a method, I write from my gut,” he explains. Kenny also collaborated with Willie Mack and Troy Kokol on the top #15 hit for Shane Yellowbird, “Watching You Walk Away.”
The Sitter brothers aren’t new to the songwriting game. Kelly and Kenny wrote the six songs that appeared on their 2000 EP, re-released in 2005, titled “Jo Hikk”. It was this record that caught the attention of the country music industry.
Jo Hikk has a very democratic and intuitive approach to choosing songs to record. “We write and we also take material from outside writers,” explains Kelly. “We put them all in a pile, listen to them, and if they make the album, fine. It’s never like ‘oh, my song has to make the album.’ We look for a song that appeals to us and that represents what Jo Hikk is all about.”
Defining what the band is all about is an elusive task, though, as Kenny Sitter notes, “I’m not embarrassed to admit we don’t really know what we’re about! Three of us [Kenny, Kelly and Al] have been together since the early 90s. How many times have we found our sound? Lots of times! We find it then something new comes along and we progress. We are never the same twice. If you see a Jo Hikk concert then catch us three weeks later, it’ll be a totally different set.” This is a highly refreshing characteristic of Jo Hikk. Rather than remaining stubbornly glued to one particular sound and image, they are free to follow their instincts.
To help make The Game, Jo Hikk returned to Toronto producer Bob Foster (best known for his work with Jann Arden). He had helmed the group’s EP, giving band and producer a real comfort level. “Bob is a very musical person and that is reflected on this album,” says Kelly. “I think it’s more musical, more flowing. Plus he’s a really nice guy to work with, not a high stress producer.” Further boosting the relaxed feel of the process was the decision to record at home in Calgary (Ride had been recorded in Nashville).Jo Hikk had considerable input on the production side, and are deservedly credited as co-producers with Foster.
Jo Hikk has been nominated in the CCMA Awards Rising Star category for the last three years. The creative achievement of The Game shows that their star has now risen, but they don’t take these earlier acknowledgements for granted “I’d be glad to be a rising star my whole life,” declares Kelly Setter. “We’re not doing this for the money, the road, or the girls, but because there’s nothing else we’d rather be doing!”
Their genuine love of playing music plus their onstage energy and playful antics make Jo Hikk real crowd pleasers, and one of the top drawing live acts in Canadian country music. Artists they have opened for include Tanya Tucker and Sara Evans. Amid the slew of upcoming dates they have this year they will be returning to the Craven Jamboree on the same bill as Keith Urban. Last year they had fun opening for the Kentucky Headhunters on that stage.
The Game’s title track’s sage advice on life includes the phrase “hold your head high.” Given the triumph that is this album, Jo Hikk can hold their heads high and proud.