SUNBURY — Five Valley musicians joined together recently to produce an all-original music project, now available for purchase.
The Mile Hill Band, with headquarters in rural Sunbury, consists of Rich Wilson, lead vocals and acoustic guitar; Jim Wert, electric guitar, vocals; Jeff Maurer, bass guitar, vocals; Brandon Barnhart, keyboards, vocals; and Sam Miriello, drums, vocals.
The debut album, “Party on the Hill,” features songs that are reminiscent of 1960s and early 1970s’ music. Songwriter Rich Wilson, of Sunbury, fell in love with music during that time period. He was driven to perform, he said, “Like almost anybody else my age — when I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.”
He immediately wanted to be a drummer, and it took two years of begging before his parents finally bought him a drum set. When he was 20, he bought a cheap acoustic guitar and taught himself to play. He and a couple of other guys would provide entertainment for kids and residents at the state school where he worked. Wilson also became part of a band called Kickbacks in the 1990s, when he began writing his own music and connected with Maurer. In the early 2000s, Wilson was part of a cover band in the area, but took the last six years off to focus on his grandchild. A few years ago, he and Maurer reconnected and began playing together in Wilson’s studio. They had already been working on an album when they connected with Wert, Miriello, and finally Barnhart. About two years ago the band began to really focus on the current project and their future together.
Wilson said it had been difficult getting local performers interested in playing original music; most wanted to play cover tunes. But he is very pleased with the group that has come together.
“These guys are really talented,” he said. “I’m very lucky to have found them.”
Wilson credits Barnhart for making a lot of key connections for the project, including an artist for the CD cover and a partnership with Bob Malone, a performer and arranger based in Los Angeles who has done work for members of The Temptations, The Four Tops, Ringo Starr and John Fogerty, as well as arranging and recording the theme song for the latest release of “The Grinch.” Malone wrote a horn arrangement for one of the songs on the album.
“We were very fortunate to get to work with him,” Barnhart said, adding that “This experience has been amazing for me, and Rich’s songwriting is just what the music world needs right now.”
Barnhart described the music on the album as “good, catchy tunes.”
Local listeners have likened the band’s sound to The Traveling Wilburys and The Beatles.
“We have been getting very positive feedback from the friends that we share the music with,” Barnhart said. “We’re very excited about this release.”
Barnhart began playing piano at age 6. His first performance was at the Strand Theater in Sunbury, when he was 9, but he didn’t get serious about singing until about eight years ago, when he started his Electric Piano Man solo act. Based in Selinsgrove, Barnhart plays solo shows almost every weekend in the Valley, and occasionally also performs outside of the area. He is also part of a band, Side EFX. With his full-time job on top of that, he has little time to rehearse with The Mile Hill Band, but he said he is thankful for the ways they have worked to include him. He said they get together twice a week and send him recordings. “I learn the tune, figure out what I want to do with it, and once every month or two I make it out to a rehearsal,” he said. “Every song sounds perfect the first time I hear it with everyone. These guys are extremely well-rehearsed.”
Wilson said they have not been able to play in a live venue yet, due to the COVID pandemic. However, they are looking forward to some opportunities this summer.
According to Wilson, the CD’s title, “Party on the Hill” is based on his memories of living on Mile Hill Road in Sunbury and having picnics with friends and family. Many of the songs on the CD, in fact, are written based on his personal experiences and suggestions from friends about memories and everyday life. One of his songs, “A Corner of My Heart,” he wrote especially for his wife Diane. Another is one he wrote in the 1990s for a BMG songwriting competition, for which he received honorable mention.
Wilson said if people like music from the 1960s, “It wouldn’t hurt to give it a listen,” adding that as they do, “I hope that they would get some enjoyment out of it.”
While the band members find happiness in simply getting together each week to play, they are looking forward to performing for live audiences, as well, and are already talking about getting back to the studio to record some more songs.
Wilson is thankful for each one of his bandmates, saying he “couldn’t have made it happen without” them.
The band will hold a CD release party from 6 to 8 p.m. June 5 at the Italian Terrace in Milton; call 570-246-5862 to make reservations.
Beginning May 27, the album and each individual track will be available on iTunes, Amazon Music, Spotify, Touch Tunes, and other streaming and online services.
For more information, visit The Mile Hill Band Facebook page.