Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit

On the full-length follow up to his critically acclaimed The Baby and the Satellite EP, MICAH P. HINSON offers a substantiated account of misery and triumph, evoking translucent memories and physical struggle. Recorded, arranged and produced mainly at home in Abilene, TX during an ironically twisted period of heavy medication and physical torment brought on from recent back surgery, Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is the product of rallying above physical torment, facing proverbial closeted skeletons and discovering eventual resolution through the power of euphonic connection. Supported by a revolving cast of seasoned players, including Eric Bachmann (Crooked Fingers), The Opera Circuit imparts a newfound, expansive and virtual basement jam quality to Hinson’s trademark no man’s land take on hushed, emotive balladry. At the end of the tunnel, Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is a veritable reminder that progress through pain can be intimate, heartfelt and epically necessary.

micah p. hinson- vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar,
slide guitar, bass guitar, banjo, mandolin, hammond organ,
salvation army organ and percussion, upright piano,
percussion, projector, accordion, and samples.

the opera circuit is, but not limited to:

h. da massa- harmonica and ghostsnatchechobox
luke senter- trap set
jason kellett- trap set
nathan sudders- bass guitar
nick phelps- sitar and banjo
robert parting- accordion
chris holt- electric guitar, rhodes piano, and nashville acoustic
eric bachmann- saxophone
jason parker- trumpet
keaton asche- trombone
tom hagarman- viola and violin
charles lee- cello
jm lapham- tape loops, childrens microphone, and samples

songs written, recorded, produced, and arranged by micah p. hinson

string and horn sections arranged by eric bachmann

all songs recorded at home on washington blvd., abilene, texas
except…
“my time wasted” recorded at the kellett household in whaley range,
manchester, england
“it’s been so long” and “you’re only lonely” recorded at the senter flat in
teakwood, abilene, texas

string section recorded by eric bachmann at four mile canyon, colorado
horn section recorded by eric bachmann in seattle, washington

original mixing by tom bridwell and jeff holbert at the bridwell
flat, elm street, dallas, texas
secondary mixing by tom knott at airtight studios, chorlton, Manchester

mastered by Guy Davie

photographs taken by micah p. hinson
modeling by mademmoiselle antoinette

songs published by bmg music publishing, uk
extra notes:
voice sample on “don’t leave me now!” is the singing of robert johnson
words on “letter from huntsville” are form a letter written by ms. emily rupp

1. Seems Almost Impossible
2. Diggin a Grave
3. Jackeyed
4. It’s Been So Long
5. Drift off to Sleep
6. Letter from Huntsville
7. She Don’t Own Me
8. My Time Wasted
9. Little Boys Dream
10. You’re Only Lonely
11. Don’t Leave Me Now!

The Baby and the Satellite

MICAH P. HINSON’S first release for Jade Tree harkens back to a stripped-down, self-professed “lost” period for the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter. Hailing from Abilene, Texas, HINSON’S introductory EP, The Baby and the Satellite, animates the emptiness of backcountry roads and late-teenage displacement. HINSON’s distinct brand of country-noir is delivered over hushed vocals and subdued guitars, shaded by fragments of Dylan’s storytelling and Bill Callahan’s (Smog) ability to tap into the darker emotions of real life. The Baby and the Satellite is an endearing journey through HINSON’S fractured past, searching for signs of hope in the somber halls of a downtrodden Middle America.

The Baby & the Satellite (destination-2004)

the players are as follows (in no particular order):
-micah p. hinson: vox, guitar, miniature guitar, casio keyboard, xylophone, upright piano, & trap set.
-brandon carr: guitar synth, samples, & drum programming.
-john mark lapham: samples & percussion programming.
-britt utsler: solo guitar on #’s 1 & 8.
-geana felker: flute.

songs written & arranged by micah p. hinson. additional arrangements on #7 by brandon carr.

most vox, most guitars, miniature guitar, flute, xylophone, and casio keyboard recorded at john mark’s folks’ house in abilene, texas on jan. 2nd-4th, 2004.

some vox, some guitars, trap se & piano recorded by tom knott at airtight studios in chorlton-cum-hardy, manchester, england during the summer of 2004 and sept. of 2004.

guitar synth and bass guitar recorded at brandon’s house in dallas, texas during the spring of 2004.

percussion samples recorded by john mark lapham at tapehead studios in abilene, texas during the spring of 2004.

The Baby & the Satellite (origin-2000)

the players are as follows (in no particular order):
-micah p. hinson: vox, guitars, casio keyboard, & trap set.
-brandon carr: guitar, samples, & drum programming.
-tim cooper: samples & drum programming.

songs written & arranged by micah p. hinson. additional arrangements on #7 by brandon carr.

#9.1, 9.3, & 9.5 recorded, mixed, and produced by micah p. hinson at tim’s house in abilene, texas during the spring of 2000.

#9.2, 9.4, 9.6, 9.7, & 9.8 recorded by brandon carr. mixed and produced by brandon carr & micah p. hinson at brandon’s apartment in abilene, texas during the spring of 2000.

songs published by bmg music publishing
all art and design by brian g. kiser

1. The Dreams You Left Behind
2. Wasted Away
3. The Leading Guy
4. Or Just Rearrange
5. For Your Eyes
6. The Last Charge of Lt. Paul
7. The Day The Volume Won
8. The Dreams You Left Behind (Reprise)
9. The Baby and the Satellite

MICAH P. HINSON PERFORMS AT WALL OF SOUND FESTIVAL


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On Saturday, September 22nd, MICAH P. HINSON will be joining Pinback, Explosions in the Sky, and a host of other indie rockers at the in Fort Worth, TX.

If Texas ain’t your thing, that’s ok. Just make sure to pick up a copy of Micah’s most recent album Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit. The album is available on and also in digital form from , eMusic, Urge, Yahoo, Virgin Digital, FYE, HMV, and Cdigix.

Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is also available for online .

TRACK LISTING
1. Seems Almost Impossible
2. Diggin a Grave
3.
4. It’s Been So Long
5. Drift off to Sleep
6. Letter from Huntsville
7. She Don’t Own Me
8. My Time Wasted
9. Little Boys Dream
10. You’re Only Lonely
11. Don’t Leave Me Now!

MICAH P. HINSON FEATURED ON KEXP

It seems that in Seattle has recently become enamored with MICAH P. HINSON. The radio station has featured the song ‘She Don’t Own Me’ on it’s Song of the Day podcast today. Micah was featured on the folk themed podcast last week and has also been featured on the station’s . In addition to all of that, you’ll be able to catch "She Don’t Own Me" on today’s afternoon show.

We suggest subscribing to the podcast, it’s totally free…

Subscribe to the KEXP Song of the Day podcast with iTunes:

Subscribe to the KEXP Song of the Day podcast with another service:

MICAH P. HINSON [I]HINSON AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT[/I] REVIEW

The hubbub surrounding Micah P. Hinson’s early records seemed to have as much to do with his scandal-sheet-ready biography and defiant DIY aesthetic as with his aggressively morose songwriting, but now, with Micah P. Hinson And The Opera Circuit (Jade Tree), the deep-voiced young troubadour has constructed some songs worthy of his blue moods and obsession with the old-timey. True, songs like "Diggin A Grave"—with its banjo, accordion, harmonica, and what sounds like amplified lap-patting—can be homespun to a fault. And Hinson lacks the charm of the similarly time-warped M. Ward. But his attempts at open outreach on the rousing anthem "Jackeyed" and the wailing lament "It’s Been So Long" have the fullness of a young folkie finally learning his craft?°¦ B+

MICAH P. HINSON [I]AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT[/I] REVIEW

Micah P. Hinson’s earlier records leaned on his weathered, husky voice that belies his young age. I don’t often invoke my colleagues at Pitchfork, but the reviewers before me have been astute– both Stephen Deusner’s comparison of Hinson to Willie Nelson, and Brian Howe’s assertion that whether Hinson was raised by snake-handlers or worked at the local food court, his music would still bleed authenticity. Hinson’s low, near-monotone singing is as human as Nelson’s, but not as approachable or everyman; there’s some intangible but obvious sadness in the hoarse creak at the edges of his syllables. It’s easy to believe he’s been through something most of us haven’t, something we’d be able to see in his eyes just as we hear it in his voice.

In contrast to the starkness of his earlier records, the backing band on Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit arrives with arrangements that are bolder, busier, and more often, a whole lot happier. After a lulling starry-night sing-along called "Seems Almost Impossible" opens on an unassuming note, a kick drum playfully smacks the two and four behind the banjo plucking of "Diggin a Grave" before the entire band kicks in– harmonica, accordion, a fiddle prancing through Eastern tones– transforming this dour folk song into a stirring wake. Though the instrumentation is more apparent in the latter, it makes a huge difference in both tracks, as the strings swell preternaturally and fade away in all the right moments of "Seems Almost Impossible". The band sounds more confident, and in turn, so does Hinson, singing in a laconic, assured drawl.

"Jackeyed" is even more layered, with a multi-tracked Hinson sounding positively anthemic over a full horn section that weaves between Detroit and Mexico City for inspiration, as he insists "everything will be better in a year" and sounds like he actually believes it. More strings follow on the waltz of "It’s Been So Long", where Hinson yells himself ragged, but it just makes him sound more hopeful, if a little beleaguered.

But while the horns on "Jackeyed" or the high-collared, near-Victorian strings on "Little Boys Dream" add further palatability and moments of genuine surprise, they can’t help but seem two-dimensional next to gut-punching solo performances like "Drift off to Sleep". Hinson sounds just as ragged as on the preceding track, but here it’s more like a tennis-ball lump in his throat. Part of the reason the horns that squeal with joy on "Letter to Huntsville" work so well is because they come right after "Drift off to Sleep", pulling us out from the disc’s emotional center.

Hinson’s learning to use his voice as another instrument, and yet his singing remains the focal point. This is especially apparent on "You’re Only Lonely", where he uses a distorted microphone; it’s the record’s most insistent rock performance, but it falls utterly flat without Hinson so far in front of it. Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit covers more ground and isn’t as unilaterally melancholy as we’re used to, though the record contains some of his best work. The arrangements seem to colorize rather than color Hinson’s songs, but his talents work just as well– maybe better– in black and white.

Rating: 7.4

MICAH P. HINSON [I]AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT[/I] REVIEW

Their names are Codeine, Xanax, Soma and Neurontin, the four horseman of Micah P. Hinson’s prescription drug apocalypse. Because of a freak back injury, the Texas singer-songwriter had to take heavy doses of all four just to get through a European tour in support of his 2005 EP The Baby And The Satellite. Nearly crippled by pain, Hinson had to fight more than just sore muscles and paralyzing spasms during his recovery. The bigger monster was the return of an addiction he thought he’d slayed after his troublesome teen years.

As a youth, Hinson was once jailed for forging prescriptions and here he was, an addict in recovery forced to face his demons again. After a long hospitalization following the tour, Hinson went back home, but during his convalescence, he worked. Bed-ridden much of the time, he wrote and recorded a new album, Micah P. Hinson And The Opera Circuit, now out on Jade Tree, at home with musician friends from the Abilene area and Eric Bachmann, he of Crooked Fingers and Archers Of Loaf fame. The back story to the record, the slightly torn-and-frayed follow-up to Micah P. Hinson And The Gospel Of Progress, is fascinating and perhaps even more compelling than the sometimes raucous, yet often intimate and even elegant, alt.-country found here, but not by much.

Using a bevy of sophisticated string and horn arrangements, courtesy of Bachmann, as a backdrop to many of the record’s 11 songs, Hinson deftly sews in light acoustic textures, scraps of harmonica fabric, and some nimble banjo picking to make a warm quilt of life-affirming Americana that’s almost as colorful as Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois. New and old come together in The Opera Circuit to create a Lambchop-inspired sound that would feel right at home on the stages of the Grand ‘Ol Opry or Lincoln Center. The bittersweet interplay of violin and cello on "Little Boys Dream" brings together classical influences and the humanity of Hinson’s storytelling in a way that’s both emotionally moving and intellectually challengingly, while the dark, carnival-esque "Diggin’ A Grave" attempts to bridge Appalachia, Tom Waits, Sixteen Horsepower and klezmer music, and does so effectively. Strange pairings like these make The Opera Circuit a delightfully wild ride with surprises around every turn.

There are mournful, sparsely acoustic ballads like "She Don’t Own Me" – don’t let the lively banjo intro fool you – and "Drift Off To Sleep" that could be bedroom conversations between an invalid and a loyal, longtime caregiver. Sandwiched between them is the semi-autobiographical "Letter From Huntsville," a song about California dreaming and how debilitating back pain is more of a hurdle to overcome to get there than physical distance. Splashy drums, honking horns and down-home banjo meet in a glorious, anthemic melting pot of rousing instrumentation, giving life to Hinson’s desire to " … get to California some day" and making it seem like the last wish of a dying man.

Death hangs over the piano-plinking closer "Don’t Leave Me Now!" like a buzzard, the spare atmosphere lending added depth to soul-baring lyrics about " … holes in myself" and giving way to a noisy conclusion of recorded voices and dissonant feedback. Hinson’s work seems to have one foot in the grave and one on the gas pedal of life, always driving on and on to a place or a person who is miles away from him. Themes of separation, pain and optimism dot the country-and-western soundscapes, and are explored with stately grace, good humor and barely restrained abandon. The epic sea chanty "You’re Only Lonely," a gradually building storm of horns, strings and unexpectedly loud rock guitars, talks of the ocean that separates him from a lover he wishes so fervently to embrace. Imagine the Arcade Fire and Vic Chestnutt on a boat with the Decemberists as a rogue wave smashes the craft to kindling and you get an idea of the majestic power harnessed by "You’re Only Lonely."

Genuinely soulful and unhindered by a slavish devotion to traditional Americana, The Opera Circuit is a tour de force for Hinson. The arrangements are sublime, even awe-inspiring at times, and yet the melodies have a back-porch charm that glows like a jar full of lightning bugs. Proving once again that it’s hard to keep a good man down, The Opera Circuit is a joyous salute to battling hardships and winning. Appreciate Hinson’s sophisticated songwriting, let his easy, raspy vocal manner welcome you with a beer and a smile, and give the man your undivided attention. His stories are worth hearing time and time again.

8.5/10

MICAH P. HINSON [I]AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT[/I] REVIEW

Every musician has a story: DIY touring; self-produced CDs burned from a laptop; finally getting signed to a record label. Abilene, Texas’s Micah P. Hinson’s story contains elements of a musician on the verge, but with a few twists. Micah has fought a long battle with prescription drugs which in 2000 caused him to be arrested for possession of illegal amounts of said drugs and forging prescriptions; this lead to the loss of all his possessions (home, car, instruments, recording equipment, clothing, etc.). Once out of jail Micah found himself homeless, sleeping on friends’ floors and eventually living in a rundown motel working at a low paying telemarketing job. In his spare time he ended up writing over 30 songs that he would play around town. In 2003, collaborating with his friends in the band the Earlies, Micah recorded Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress, which was quickly picked up by Sketchbook Records. A British indie label, Sketchbook launched Micah’s career as the hot new folk artist in Europe. Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress became an underground success in Europe and received reviews comparing Micah to Johnny Cash and lauding him as the next Bob Dylan. The album was released in the U.S. by Overcoat Records but didn’t sell as well here despite touring with the Earlies and David Bazan (Pedro the Lion).

But the Bazan tour did lead to Micah signing to famous hardcore/indie label Jade Tree Records who, along with Sketchbook, re-released and remastered some of his earlier recordings to make The Baby and the Satellite EP. This lead up to Micah’s most recent relapse into drugs, which sent him to drug rehab and the recording of this album: Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit.

The album features a multitude of instruments that vary from slide, electric, and acoustic guitars to the ghostsnatchechobox and accordion. Micah’s voice is a combination of a gruff and brooding young man and the wise and soulful Johnny Cash. Songs differ from the banjo and twang of “Diggin’ a Grave” to the lush and beautiful night soundscape in the opening track, “Seems Almost Impossible.” The lyrical content of the record examines personal relationships yet still captures a catchy folksy melody, like in “Jackeyed,” which could refer to his drug problems or a close friend as he asks, “Will I know you better in a year?”

Hinson uses orchestral compostitions to heighten his sound and fill out the album and make it much more than a folk album, but continues his foray into modern pop music. Yet Mr. Hinson never forgets that his true love is folk: with the simple finger-picking on several songs and the appearance of the mandolin and banjo it also cements his roots in country music. A horn section is added to the hodgepodge of instruments and adds to the old-time feels of “Letter to Huntsville.” The album’s two best songs are the softest and loudest on the album: “Little Boy’s Dream” (the ninth track) and “You’re Only Lonely” (the tenth track). “Little Boy’s Dream” has a pair of violins playing a more classical style of the instrument which adds to the despair Micah wants the listener to feel for the orphan boy who’s dream is to “find a home, find a soul?°¦.” “You’re Only Lonely” begins with a joke intro but soon breaks into another beautiful classical arrangement paired with an electric guitar playing a delicate part with accented horns. The song reaches its crescendo with deafening blasts out of the same amp that had been playing softly at the song’s beginning and creates a wall of sound similar to the sea that Mr. Hinson sings about in the song. The album’s closer (“Don’t Leave Me Now”) is a song that is growing on me because of the beautiful choir singing along in harmony with Micah’s gruff vocals, ending in dissonant noise and a violin playing along to the sound of an old-time film.

The CD artwork is simple with the trademark photograph Mr. Hinson takes of a ballerina in black and white that appeared on The Gospel of Progress as well. This is one of my favorites of 2006 and I expect bigger and better things from this Texan in the future. Expect me in the front row at his next Cincinnati appearance.

MICAH P. HINSON [I]AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT[/I] REVEIW

Not even 25 years old yet, Micah P. Hinson may be pretty young for a world-weary guy with one foot in the country and one foot on the breakout train, but he’s already seen some Hard Times and some Bad Things, and you can certainly hear it in his weary half-twang. For reference, think of a less-nasal Vic Chesnutt, a more intelligible Richard Buckner, or a younger Kurt Wagner. Or all three together, even.

Hinson is a colorful character from Abilene, Texas who can write a mean song and play a truly impressive assortment of instruments. On this release (his second full length), for the places where he just can’t play everything at the same time, he’s joined by “The Opera Circuit,” a.k.a. the particular crew of (really talented) musical vagrants Hinson managed to wrangle up at the time of the recording.

One of those vagrants is Eric Bachmann, who arranged and recorded the string and horn sections that, along with banjo, accordion, and Hinson’s distinctive gritty sigh of a voice, give the record its distinctive sound.

The strings on most of the songs roll quietly and grandly along in a classical fashion that wouldn’t be out of place in Vienna a century or two ago, but I think they become most interesting at the record’s end, on “don’t leave me now,” where they sound off—and hold their own—against tape effects and noise.

Other standout tracks include the raucously accordion-heavy “diggin a grave” and “you’re only lonely,” which could find itself alongside Secret Machines on Corporate Rock Alternative radio if it’s not careful.

What might be most impressive about Mr. Hinson, though, is his refusal to confine himself to the very popular (and very marketable) image or role of the Poor-Me Downtrodden Guy From a Rural Area. Sure, a lot of this material is pretty heartbreaking. But there are also moments of heady triumph and optimism, as you can hear most clearly in “jackeyed,” supported by an entire madcap orchestra (including the aforementioned Mr. Bachmann playing the saxophone). There’s a maturity bespoken by that kind of range that comes through clearly with or without the press releases about the hardships Hinson has faced.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Two different but disaffected songwriters offer takes on the U.S. this week. With his tar-heavy Texas accent and down-home colloquialisms, Micah P. Hinson sounds about as American as you can get. His second album, "Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit," is a weathered study in Americana sorrow.

Yet Hinson, who grew up in Abilene, Texas, claims he barely has an audience in this country.

But southern Europe goes "mental" for his ruminations on soured relationships, says Hinson, who plays Spaceland tonight and Pitzer College on Friday. And in England, where he lived for a spell, Mojo and Uncut magazines have been singing his praises. "America is so big and quite threatening — I despise it."

MICAH P. HINSON TAKES THE OPERA CIRCUIT ON TOUR


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MICAH P. HINSON and the touring Opera Circuit band will hit the road today for nearly a month of US and Canadian shows. Hinson and company will begin in Arizona, winding West, then North and East, hitting the before finishing up in Athens, GA on November 18. Dates are listed below. Check the for full details and the most current information.

10/24/2006 Phoenix, AZ United States @ Modified
10/25/2006 Riverside, CA United States @ UC Riverside
10/26/2006 Los Angeles, CA United States @ Spaceland
10/27/2006 Pomona, CA United States @ Pitzer College
10/28/2006 San Francisco, CA United States @ Du Nord
10/30/2006 Portland, OR United States @ Doug Fir Lounge
10/31/2006 Seattle, WA United States @ Tractor Tavern
10/31/2006 Seattle, WA United States @ Sonic Boom (FREE Live In-store)
11/03/2006 Brooklyn, NY United States @ North Six
11/04/2006 Chicago, IL United States @ Schubas Tavern
11/06/2006 Kalamazoo, Michigan United States @ Kraftbrau Brewery
11/07/2006 Toronto, ON Canada @ Lee’s Palace
11/08/2006 Montreal, QBC Canada @ Green Room – Montreal
11/09/2006 Cambridge, MA United States @ T.T. The Bear’s Place
11/10/2006 New York, NY United States @ Mercury Lounge
11/11/2006 Hoboken, NJ United States @ Maxwell’s
11/15/2006 Philadelphia, PA United States @ Johnny Brendas
11/16/2006 Arlington, VA United States @ Iota Club & Cafe
11/17/2006 Chapel Hill, NC United States @ Local 506
11/18/2006 Atlanta, GA United States @ Lenny’s
11/20/2006 San Antonio, TX United States @ Limelight
11/21/2006 Austin, TX United States @ Emo’s
11/22/2006 Denton, TX United States @ Hailey’s

On the full-length follow up to his critically acclaimed EP, MICAH P. HINSON offers a substantiated account of misery and triumph, evoking translucent memories and physical struggle. Recorded, arranged and produced mainly at home in Abilene, TX during an ironically twisted period of heavy medication and physical torment brought on from recent back surgery, is the product of rallying above physical torment, facing proverbial closeted skeletons and discovering eventual resolution through the power of euphonic connection. Supported by a revolving cast of seasoned players, including Eric Bachmann (Crooked Fingers), The Opera Circuit imparts a newfound, expansive and virtual basement jam quality to Hinson’s trademark no man’s land take on hushed, emotive balladry. At the end of the tunnel, Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is a veritable reminder that progress through pain can be intimate, heartfelt and epically necessary.

Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is out now and also available in digital form from , eMusic, Urge, Yahoo, Virgin Digital, FYE, HMV, and Cdigix.

Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is also now available for online .

TRACK LISTING
1. Seems Almost Impossible
2. Diggin a Grave
3.
4. It’s Been So Long
5. Drift off to Sleep
6. Letter from Huntsville
7. She Don’t Own Me
8. My Time Wasted
9. Little Boys Dream
10. You’re Only Lonely
11. Don’t Leave Me Now!

MICAH P. HINSON [i]AND THE OPERA CICUIT[/i] REVIEW

For an artist at the relative beginning of his career, Micah P. Hinson has experienced more ups and downs and Byzantine turns over a few short years than most musicians do in a decade or more. His gloomy, stunning debut, Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress – released in 2004 and widely praised in the UK, but mostly ignored in his home country – was largely inspired by a doomed affair with a model that spiraled out of control, leaving Hinson homeless, broke and addicted to narcotics. After a follow-up EP, The Baby & the Satellite, was released earlier this year, Hinson injured his back when a band mate playfully punched him, aggravated the condition while on tour in Europe, and was ultimately forced to return to his hometown of Abilene, Texas to have surgery and convalesce. It was during this extended period of painful recovery, heavily medicated once again, that he recorded Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit.

The “Opera Circuit” of the title refers to the group of musical friends – including saxophonist/arranger Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers and Gospel of Progress contributor Henry Da Massa on harmonica – that made the journey to Abilene to record at home with Hinson, and they bring a fairly dizzying array of sounds and textures to the album, as does Hinson himself, switching from acoustic to electric guitar, banjo, mandolin, piano, organ and even percussion.

Despite the difficulties Hinson was experiencing during the recording sessions, the album has a slightly sunnier quality than the pitch black Gospel of Progress. “Diggin A Grave,” a comically macabre banjo-driven polka number that falls musically somewhere between Abilene and Warsaw, is more lighthearted than anything on either the debut album or The Baby & the Satellite EP. On “Jackeyed” (“Jackeyed all day long/As I sit and I sing these same old songs/It’s hard to think you’d care/When it’s hard to find you almost anywhere”), Hinson fights through the pain, marching along slightly unsteadily on horns, swinging percussion and double, overdubbed vocals, which give the tune an appropriately inebriated, off-kilter quality.

One of the things that lends Hinson’s music its distinctive cast is his deep, tobacco-ravaged, gravelly drawl. On “Drift Off to Sleep” he delivers the album’s standout vocal performance, his wide-open Texas vowels cracking slightly while soaring gently over acoustic guitar and a tender string arrangement. It’s the album’s least baroque moment – an exquisitely diaphanous, gentle, melancholy song. The dusty “She Don’t Own Me,” with its gently plucked banjo, quivering strings and distant, echoing harmonica, is another hushed beauty, with Hinson resigning himself to a relationship that’s given up the ghost while doing his best to put on a brave face.

Despite some lighter moments, Hinson still loves to revel in heartache, and like The Gospel of Progress, The Opera Circuit lends itself best to late-night or rainy day listening. The soaring, electric, Bob Mould-ish “You’re Only Lonely” is perhaps the only one of album’s 11 songs that doesn’t fit this profile, but it demonstrates what Hinson can do when he chooses to open up his sound a bit.

Still in his mid-twenties, Hinson joins a distinguished line of Texas musical iconoclasts. The Opera Circuit sees him exploring some new avenues while staying with what he does best – writing dark songs about love and pain. In the span of three years, he has created an extraordinary body of music, despite all the hardships, and it will be very interesting to see what’s around the corner. Can Hinson produce the same kind of quality without dragging himself through hell again? For his sake, one would certainly hope so.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MICAH

Micah P. Hinson is proof that outward appearances don’t count for much. His deep, ravaged baritone contrasts with his slight build and youthful looks. His largely melancholic music tilts against his lighthearted, cheerful demeanor. His straight-laced, conservative background seems out of place with his chosen avocation – writing songs about reckless love affairs, self-destruction and redemption.

Most surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Hinson, one of America’s brightest young singer/songwriters, has enjoyed his greatest success to date far from his Abilene, Texas home, in Europe. While his first album, the jet-black Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress , received rave reviews abroad, it was largely ignored in North America. After completing an EP of early material, The Baby & the Satellite , and spending time with The Late Cord, a side-project with John-Mark Langham of the Earlies, Hinson geared up to record the follow up to Gospel , only to be stricken with a debilitating back injury as the result of a playful punch from a band mate.

Bed-ridden, in severe pain and heavily medicated at home in Abilene, Hinson enlisted a group of musical guests and acquaintances to help him get to work on Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit , the follow-up to Gospel . Though Opera Circuit shares its predecessor’s dark heart, Hinson allows more light to shine through. Bathed in string and horn arrangements and featuring a wider array of instrumentation, Hinson’s particular brand of desolate joy has never sounded more appealing.

Being There spoke with Hinson at length about the production of Opera Circuit , working through a haze of painkillers, his unusual, colorful background and achieving creative independence.

Being There: Let’s jump right into the new album. This is your second full-length album, with the Baby & the Satellite EP and The Late Cord sandwiched in between. But the circumstances and process of recording it were a little different than you expected, weren’t they?

Micah P. Hinson: Yeah, I guess we should delve into all that.

BT: If it’s not too painful.

MPH: It’s all pretty painful shit. I’m still kind of dealing with the same shit now as I was dealing with when I was making the album. What happened was that I had an incident with a friend, had a disc pop and was going numb from the waist down – just a massive chronic pain. I had surgery, and it was in the midst of this surgery that I realized that the record needed to be finished soon, or I would get off my back and I would be piss poor. The doom that it presented to me didn’t seem very positive, so I just decided to make the record. After the surgery, when I was able to sit up, some of my friends – one from Manchester, another from Austin and some folks from Abilene – just came around to help me work on the record. Also a guy named Eric Bachmann from Archers of Loaf?°¦

BT: And Crooked Fingers?°¦

MPH: Right. He met me in Abilene as he was going up to Denver, and we spent about a month writing out our work and getting people to record it, in Colorado and Seattle as well. The circumstances were shit with my back, but I thought it was great, because with everything else I’d done – with The Gospel record and the re-recording of The Baby – I’d gone places and got help from people. Here I was faced with a kind of shit life, and it showed that all of my friends really did care. It was not just about making a couple of bucks – there really wasn’t any money involved for anybody. Except for Bachmann maybe – the whole entire budget had to go to pay for his crazy ass. I think in the end it was a bit rough around the edges. But the record was made with love and compassion toward my plight, and I think it kind of came out in music. It sounds more like myself than anything I’ve done.

BT: When you were originally looking at these songs, before the injury and your recovery from surgery, was the conception of the next album that you had in your head different from the way it turned out?

MPH: It’s a good question, but I don’t think I’ve ever sat down with any of my records and said, “OK, we want the songs to sound like this, or have this kind of instrumentation.” With The Gospel and The Opera Circuit , it’s a matter of just finding a good handful of songs, maybe 20 tunes, and recording them – let them find themselves in a way. And at the end of it just kind of see what the songs turn themselves into and whether that is going to work on the record. I’m just too fucking lazy, man. We kind of hope and have faith that the music’s going to take care of itself. I think music is powerful enough to do that if you let it. Nobody heard anything until right before the record was finished, when we were going to master it. It was sort of a secret between me and my mates who had worked on it. But to answer your question, there’s no real intention. It’s just a matter of making songs and hoping that they turn out good.

BT: Well, on the back of the album it says, “11 songs from Abilene, TX”, so I suppose that’s about as simple as you can get.

MPH: I do try to keep it very simple. That’s why I do the artwork the way I do?°¦

BT: It’s really striking.

MPH: I think it’s better that way. With the modern age and digital downloading and all this kind of bullshit, you really have to give people a reason to go out and buy it, because we can steal this shit day in and day out nowadays. I just wanted to make something as striking as possible and off the beaten path a little bit. I don’t see a lot of records that look that way, black & white, with typewriter script, with no words. I just try to let the music speak for itself and get a kind of stark beauty out of it. A lot of people come up to me and say, “I really like the record. I illegally downloaded it and now I really want to buy it.” At the end of the day, I really don’t care if people steal my music. If I can affect their lives, that’s more important than getting ten bucks out of their pocket. Once ten dollars becomes more important than somebody’s soul, I’m fucked and I should probably go put a gun in my mouth. Hopefully it won’t come to that.

BT: The term “Opera Circuit” in the album’s title, I understand, refers to the musicians who came to play and record these songs with you. Were these all friends you had worked with previously?

MPH: I have a drummer named Nibbles, Jason Kallett, and he played drums on just one tune – he’s kind of like my staple drummer when we go overseas. He does all the European stuff with us. There’s a guy named Nathan Sutters [bass] has been playing with us since the first show we ever did, in Manchester. Luke Senter, who played the majority of the drums, he’s the bastard that punched me in the back and gave me all these problems, but he’s a good mate. I’ve known him since college. The Opera Circuit is what we had called ourselves since college. Nick Phelps, who plays banjo, has been a mate of mine for a couple of years. I guess I’d worked previously with just about everybody in a roundabout way except for Robert Partin, who played some of the accordion on the record. He’s like 60 years old and has some stuff growing off of his face. He’s a real dirty bastard, but musically just genius. I think he’s kind of like an idiot savant or something.

BT: All of the horn and string arrangements were done separately, right?

MPH: There were about 17 songs and Bachmann came up and I said, “Just listen to it, and whatever you want to do, just do on it. Just be yourself because I’m really in love with what you do.” And so it comes back a month later with Frank Sinatra. Every single song had these enormous beautiful string parts, these enormous horn parts. At the end of the day we had to cut a lot of it back, because I’m not Frank Sinatra. So what you hear on the record is a massively tamed-down version or what he had written. I just kind of let him loose on my music and guaranteed that he would get a paycheck.

So it was a lot of friends and a couple of strangers who made up the Opera Circuit. My next record will have a different name, and it will be the same staple people, but the horns and strings and that kind of stuff might change. At one point, I was talking to The Earlies about doing the Opera Circuit record with them, but at the end of the day it was just like, “Fuck, I don’t want to make another record that sounds just like the last one.” I just wanted to make something different – something on my own. With a lot for the reviews of Gospel , it was like, “Look what The Earlies have done for Micah.” Like they were my saviors or something, and they were in some ways, but in some ways they weren’t. I had gotten out of the drug addiction, I had been bankrupt for a couple of years, I had gotten away from some of the shady women and all of this a year or two before I’d actually become signed [to a record deal]. So here I just wanted to make a stamp for myself – do the production, do the recording, do everything on my own, stand up on my own two feet. It was daunting, because I knew that if I put out a second full-length record and it was shit, everyone would think I was just some crappy, sad fool.

BT: A flash in the pan?

MPH: Yeah, and maybe I was a sad fool, but I was doing everything I could to push against that. Luckily, it’s doing a lot better worldwide than any of the previous records I’ve done.

BT: I think it’s a beautiful album. To me, it sounds a bit fuller than Gospel , with more different sounds and shades – accordion, banjo – all this interesting stuff happening.

MPH: Right.

BT: I don’t want to take you back through all of this again, but obviously when you were putting this record together you were going through this reliance on medication, as a result of the surgery. How did that affect the recording process? Could you rehearse the songs the way you normally would? What about actual performance – could you stand up and play, or were you seated the whole time?

MPH: One thing that we’ve never done for a record is actually sit with the band and rehearse. A lot of it is spawned from me just playing the guitar parts and singing, and then we just kind of build things on top of that. I guess drugs affected the record in some ways. I don’t think it affected the words or the content of the album itself. None of it had anything to do with drugs or the surgery or back problems or any of that. But I wasn’t as worried as maybe I should have been making the record, because I was on a lot of codeine and Xanax and morphine. I was just doing what I loved and I when was really fucked up on drugs I wasn’t concerned with how other people were going to take the songs. I think maybe it was a good thing. A lot of bands are under this stigma – “What can we make popular? What will the public want?” Like the second Franz Ferdinand album. It sucked balls, because they were thinking, “What’s going to make a million record sales?” as opposed to “What are we going to do that we love?”

It was a bit hard, recording this stuff in the condition that I was in. In the end the surgery that I had ended up being a failure and I’m going to have to go in and have another one. So I definitely worked too hard and did too much initially, making the album and then jumping right off and starting to tour just four or five months after the surgery was done. With the drugs and the state of my back, it did make for an interesting record, but in the end I think I probably worked it too hard, and now I’m kind of suffering the consequences. I’m still on the codeine and Xanax, and it’s still a monster that I have to face every day. Last time I went to England, for a single week, it didn’t hurt at all, and it had been two years since I felt that.

BT: Were any of the songs on the new album actually written during the time you were recovering from the surgery or were they all written before that? I suspected that “Jackeyed” may have been, but I’m probably wrong!

MPH: That was written three years ago now. The songs that were written during the depths of this were “Diggin a Grave,” “Seems Almost Impossible,” “She Don’t Own Me” and a couple more. After I’d had this surgery I’d been with this woman – the woman who is on the cover of both of the records. I’d been with her for about four years and she helped me with the surgery. I had a shower chair and a walker, so she was really helping me. I couldn’t turn myself alone. So she was helping me with all of this stuff and I gradually started getting out of bed a bit and working on the tunes. It was quite strange, because they were like break-up songs for her, but I had yet to break up with her, and it wasn’t until the first tour after the surgery, when we were in Valencia, that things kind of went tits up.

But nothing was really written about my physical condition at the time I did the album. It was more of the mental anguish of trying to be with a woman who you know you love so much but you know doesn’t work. It was definitely a difficult time, but at the end of the day I don’t think it’s God punishing me for anything. It’s me just making kind of wrong decisions. Hopefully as time goes on and I grow up I can start wrapping my mind around this and I won’t have to deal with back problems or fucked-up relationships with human beings. Who knows? I’m sure that before I make my next record something nasty will happen in my life and people can have something else to talk about.

BT: When you go to record your next album, wouldn’t you love it if it were just a boring process? Would it feel strange to record an album where you just went into a studio and laid the songs down and that was it?

MPH: It could be a bit weird, but as I said, when I got signed and recorded the Gospel of Progress record, I’d kind of pulled myself away from a lot of the things that the press really latched onto. They forgot about the year and a half to two years previous to the recording. They made the drugs and all of this stuff go right in together with the music…

BT: Which had happened years previous, right?

MPH: Yeah, exactly. The music caught me by the bootstraps and pulled me up. Nothing saved my ass except for me just kind of sitting in this messed up hotel room one day that my grandfather had paid for, because I was homeless, and just realizing that nobody was going to save me anymore. If I was going to have a reasonable life, I was going to have to do it myself. So then I got a job and started making it back with my family, saved some money and ended up moving to Denton, Texas. I was trying to make something out of my life – went back to college.

So I guess, in some ways, The Gospel was a record that I recorded in normal circumstances. I went in and I put the tracks down. It was odd in the sense that I didn’t know anybody in The Earlies except for one person, so every day a stranger would come in to work on the music. That was kind of strange.

But the press is really big in to the romanticizing of the destruction of the human soul. And that’s fair enough, because at the end of the day, if I didn’t have a half-ass reasonable story there would be nobody to talk about me. I’d just be like the next Willy Mason or something. So I’ll be the fucked up drug addict. I’ll be the guy sleeping with Vogue models, getting his back punched open, and that’s fine – as long as it keeps the electricity on and I can do what I love and affect people.

I know a lot of people who don’t really dwell on those things. People I see at gigs want to share with me how I’ve affected their lives or relationships or helped them through divorce or the death of a loved one – that’s the real fucking deal. That’s when you know that the music is working and that it’s alive.

BT: Let’s talk a little bit about your background and how you started as a musician. Am I right that you were born in Memphis and later moved to Texas?

MPH: Yeah, I was born in Memphis. My dad was trying to become a psychologist, and we moved to West Virginia, where he finished up his PhD. He got a job as a professor at Abilene Christian University, so we moved there and I was there from about four years old on.

BT: I’ve seen you referred to as being a “skate kid” when you were younger. Is that accurate?

MPH: I was definitely a skate kid and went and caused a lot of trouble. I kind of don’t like [the skate kid label], but I guess it kind of connects me to the “emo kids.” I was a skater, but in my mind that leads me to think of some sort of stereotypical human being, and I don’t think I was that or am that. But I used to love skateboarding. Abilene was such a small, desolate hell hole that you had to find things to bide your time. Some people made a mess with underage girls. I just decided to pick up a guitar and go around on a skateboard smoking grass and tripping on LSD. I went the route of less violence and destruction at first. I definitely got into the shit later in life, because I was just trying to get through.

It was easier to grow up there in some ways, because people weren’t getting shot and there weren’t gangs and all of this bullshit, but it was so damn boring. It could be a good thing and lead to a lot of creative processes, or it could be the destruction of the human soul, and Abilene destroyed a lot of people I know. I know a lot of people who ended up dying of drugs, a lot of people who are still in jail because of the sheer Christianity/boredom of that town. Jack Kerouac wrote about it in On the Road . He and his buddy Dean Moriarty drove up to the tracks – I know exactly where the tracks are – and they got out and said, “Why the hell would anybody ever live here?” and drove the fuck off. I was reading On the Road in a really tough spot and I thought, “Jesus, Kerouac’s been here! I don’t feel so bad. He hates it just as much as me.” It’s a terrible place.

BT: But you still live there, right [laughing]?

MPH: [Laughing] Yeah, I still live there with my folks. I just travel so much that it’s hard to justify in my mind paying a lot of money for rent and bills when I’m out and about. I’m not back in Abilene too much, but when I am I just reside at my folks’. I’ve got a piano and a little fucked-up blind Chihuahua, so we have a really good time.
BT: Was there a lot of music around your house when you were growing up – or was it more something that you discovered on your own?

MPH: My Dad listened to a shitload of John Denver and the Oak Ridge Boys. My mom was massive into Neil Diamond and the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing [laughing]. That was the music that I heard growing up, not much more than that. But my older brother, who is two years older than me, when we got into high school started finding bands like The Cure, Skinny Puppy and Ministry. We started listening to a lot of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur, Jr., as well as Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. It wasn’t something that I grew up with – it was more something that we found together and raised ourselves on it. Having older siblings that aren’t too much older than you can be a real blessing.

BT: How did you come to play so many different instruments? I’m looking at the credits on Opera Circuit , for example, and you have more than half a dozen – guitar (of course), bass, banjo, mandolin, organ, piano, percussion, accordion?°¦

MPH : I started with the guitar and then moved from there to playing other stringed instruments, like the mandolin and banjo. Me and my brother had a dulcimer when we were growing up, but I was always musically inclined. My grandmother always had a piano, so I played on that. The credits are quite long for the instruments I do play, but I honestly don’t know how to play a single one really. Even on the guitar, you couldn’t ask me to play a scale for C. I couldn’t do that – I would be completely lost. I understand what it is, but I’m quite dense with that kind of stuff. But with imagination and use of instruments I guess I can pull it off. If you can get stringed instruments and keyed instruments then you have a lot of bases covered. So I guess that’s the thing – just a lot of fucking around and having keyboards and things around the house growing up. I’ve been trying to make music since I was 10 or 12 years old. I fell down in my piano class in college, so it’s all just general fucking about. I guess somehow the gods have blessed me with an inkling of some sort of talent. I’m lucky enough to do what I’m doing. Better this than be good at accounting or something [laughing].

BT: Now people have written a lot about the personal shit leading up to Gospel of Progress . But I’m more interested in how it came to be that the songs you had written while you were going through all of that came to be heard and eventually recorded. How did you go from a telemarketing job to a UK record deal?

MPH: Well, as I said, from the age of 12 or so I was trying to write songs, and it was when I was about 17 or 18 years old, maybe a bit older than that, that I had recorded The Baby & the Satellite . That was the time in my life when I felt like it was a step, some progress, and that maybe I could actually write a song.

John-Mark Lapham from The Earlies, who I am in The Late Cord with, heard it and called me up one day and said, “I really like The Baby & the Satellite , and a lot of people I know like it. I’d really like to sign you to our little label, and whether we ever release it or not, we can use it as a way to get your music around.” So basically for two years, every time he sent out an Earlies demo he sent out a demo of The Baby & the Satellite .

It almost got signed to Rough Trade but they decided no in the end. Things were coming up here and there, but always kind of fell flat on their face. And then finally [John-Mark] played a radio set on BBC radio and put on a demo version of my song “The Possibilities,” in between a Sigur Rós tune and some other song. Sketchbook [Records], who had said no to us a year and a half prior, called up called up John-Mark the next day and said, “Who is this? Is this some kind of lost Will Oldham song?” He’s like, “No, it’s that Micah Hinson fucker you passed on.” Within two weeks he’d signed me to [Sketchbook].

Then I just went over [to the UK], made half of The Gospel , came back home to make the second half and had gotten the interest of BMG publishing. The night of my first English tour, I got an offer from them, so it all just kind of fell in my lap.

I guess it comes down to the fact that a lot of people learn how to write a song and start pushing it – they want to be rock stars or recording artists or whatever the hell people think that means – but I never had the endurance myself to send out the demos or do the self-publicized tours and stuff. In fact, when I got signed I wasn’t even playing guitar very much. I was helping my banjo player, Nick [Phelps], with his music, and I wasn’t really pushing it on my side. It wasn’t until I got signed that I said, “Shit, I really need to get a half-assed nice guitar and take it seriously.” Bands try for years and years and nothing ever comes of it, but it just fell in my lap. I always keep it in mind that I’ve been as blessed and lucky as I am.

BT: Are you surprised by the way that your music has been embraced in the UK as compared to the States? I know that you have been touring extensively in the UK recently, not only with The Earlies, but also Richard Hawley. I was actually turned on to your music by people in the UK recommending it to me.

MPH: I’m not sure why, but I think in the end they latched on because there is this kind of Americana craze going on over there, and I’m being kind of lodged in with all of that. In America, I’m in everyone’s backyard, and this is just one of a million things. I was just talking with a friend about that today. Why, in Italy, where a lot of people can’t understand what I sing, are they so much more excited about what I do than Americans? I really have no idea why Europe is so much better for me, but I’m glad about. Especially in England – I get one pound over there and I come home and it’s two dollars [laughing]. But beyond monetary reasons, it just seems that Europeans, and even in Australia and New Zealand, people’s hearts are just a bit more open to it.

BT: Does it say something about the American indie scene that we have great American singer/songwriters breaking out in the UK before they do here, and are issuing albums in the UK before they come out here?

MPH: I’m not sure what to say about Americans. I guess easily and naturally the asshole in me wants to come out and say, “We Americans don’t want to pay attention, we don’t want to get any further than the top layer of emotions. We just want to consume and consume and consume and not think about where we are, where we are going, and what’s possible and not possible.” But I think in the end all Americans aren’t like that. There are people in this country riding these same roads as I am who are just as rabid and livid about life and music and art and the creation of it [as I am]. Maybe it’s just the fact that [in the UK] it’s much more condensed. America is so huge that it’s just harder to spread the word.

I’m concerned about America. We are good people and not the evil mongoloids that everyone thinks we are. It’s just the people that run us that are like that. Americans are a strange, strange breed of human being. But I am glad to be able to play a gig in Paris, or play a gig in Rome and be able to walk to the Coliseum. It’s a blessing to be able to see life-changing things.

BT: It’s interesting, because reading about all of the stuff you were going through in the process of making this record, you might have expected it to be even darker than Gospel . But it seems to me that here you have more of these little glimpses of light. “Diggin a Grave”, for example, with its Eastern European vibe, is probably the happiest song about digging a grave that you’re ever going to hear. It’s an album recorded under difficult circumstances, but it seems that there are more joyous moments.

MPH: Oh man, maybe the reason is that, for the Gospel record, I didn’t feel like I was that involved. In some ways I was the smallest part of that record. I just went in and recorded my guitar parts, played a teeny bit of piano, with everybody else kind of doing all the work. With this record, I had my hands on things a lot more and had a bit more time to work on it. I’m not sure why the lighter side of it came out, but a lot of people I’ve talked to have said that. Maybe it’s just because there’s more of me in the album. We’ve been talking for a bit now, and I think you can tell I’m not a completely sad asshole. I try to have a laugh and I’m not a depressed bastard in the slightest. I suffer the same sadness as everyone else. “Diggin a Grave,” like you say, Jesus, you’re talking about burying someone alive, but it’s very joyous and very jaunty, and you can see hippies throwing Frisbees and dancing in the yard and stuff.

BT: A song like “You’re Only Lonely” is also not something you would have heard on Gospel , with that wall of guitar. It almost reminds me of a Bob Mould song a bit, and it’s a real departure from the first album.

MPH: I really like “You’re Only Lonely” for the fact that it is really huge, but it’s almost ethereal, because it’s about people being apart and then finding each other again. “Don’t Leave Me Now!”, which is just after it on the album, is probably the saddest, most daunting things I’ve ever done.

BT: One of my favorite tunes is “Drift Off to Sleep.” One of the things that makes it really special is your vocals, and to me they are one of the things that make your music really unique. Do you find that people who are unfamiliar with your work are surprised when this guy with glasses in his 20s opens his mouth and this deep, raw sound comes out?

MPH: Definitely. Some guy in Ireland asked, “Who’s this kid? When’s his dad gonna come out and sing these songs for us? Where’s the real Micah Hinson?” It definitely catches people by surprise. My excuse is always that I’ve smoked too many cigarettes – too much abuse. But I’ve been all over the world now, doing shows with other people, and they’ve clearly been smoking longer than me and been on this earth longer and their voices are pristine. I’m not sure where the weird growl comes from, but I tell the sound guy to make sure our vocals are loud because that’s really the only thing we have going for us, man. I’m glad that this voice did find me and that I’m able to sing the way that I am. It’s just what the gods have given me, and I’d rather sound like this than like Michael Bolton or some crap.

I’m glad you liked “Drift Off?°¦”. That was done in one take, with one mic on the guitar and one on my vocals, and I was sitting in my weirdo Marilyn Manson corset and my boxers and slippers and just kind of had a go at it. That was the first take and that’s what we kept, and later put on the strings.

BT: The strings work seamlessly with that song too.

MPH: I think a lot of the strings here do that. None of the songs were done on a click track. Even a song like “Little Boys Dream,” I don’t know how the balls they figured that out, because it was just a guitar track and we ended up taking my guitar part out and just leaving the strings.

BT: What are you planning to do next? Do you have another album in mind?

MPH: Me and John-Mark, we are going to be finishing up a Late Cord LP, hopefully to be finished sometime by spring, if we can get it done over January. We are going to try to find something a bit more song-based and not as convoluted and strange [as the first Late Cord album]. A lot of those songs came from before The Earlies began, and they were trying to figure out who was going to be the singer of The Earlies – whether it was going to be me or this guy Brandon Carr, who got the job – so they were just kind of sketches. But I think there are strange things inside me that kind of lend themselves to the 4AD kind of sound [4AD issued The Late Cord EP, Lights from the Wheelhouse – ed.].

But I guess for my own, hopefully I’ll have an album out within a year from now, because I am in better health. In the meantime, we’ll be doing a 7” single with Rough Trade Records – some stuff that wasn’t put on the Opera Circuit record – and then I’ll be putting out a single in Spain with my label over there, Houston Party, of some other different songs. Just trying to do as much as I possibly can without being as obnoxious as hell. There’s a fine line. I’m not like Sufjan Stevens with a 5-disc box set, so hopefully people won’t get tired of me. I always want to wet people’s whistle, if you know what I’m saying.

BT: Now, you’re on tour here in North America in support of the new record. Are you touring with a full band?

MPH: On this tour, it’s just me and Nick Phelps, who plays lap steel, banjo and drums. The set will generally start off with me and lap steel, then we’ll get into banjo and do some hillbilly shit and by the end we’re a noise-punk band. I’m not sure what the hell we turn into. Things get a bit haywire – we’re screaming and throwing shit.

BT: [Laughing] Well, we’re looking forward to seeing that when you get to Lee’s Palace and Maxwell’s. Best of luck with the rest of the tour and thanks so much for speaking with us today.

MPH: Thank you.

MICAH P. HINSON "MICAH P. HINSON AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT" (JT1117) CD OUT TODAY


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On the full-length follow up to his critically acclaimed EP, MICAH P. HINSON offers a substantiated account of misery and triumph, evoking translucent memories and physical struggle. Recorded, arranged and produced mainly at home in Abilene, TX during an ironically twisted period of heavy medication and physical torment brought on from recent back surgery, is the product of rallying above physical torment, facing proverbial closeted skeletons and discovering eventual resolution through the power of euphonic connection. Supported by a revolving cast of seasoned players, including Eric Bachmann (Crooked Fingers), The Opera Circuit imparts a newfound, expansive and virtual basement jam quality to Hinson’s trademark no man’s land take on hushed, emotive balladry. At the end of the tunnel, Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is a veritable reminder that progress through pain can be intimate, heartfelt and epically necessary.

MICAH P. HINSON and the touring Opera Circuit band will hit the road for nearly a month of US and Canadian shows. Starting on October 24, Hinson and company will hit the road in Arizona, winding West, then North and East, before finishing up in Athens, GA on November 18. Check the for full details.

Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is out today and available in digital form from , eMusic, Urge, Yahoo, Virgin Digital, FYE, HMV, and Cdigix.

Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is also now available for online .

TRACK LISTING
1. Seems Almost Impossible
2. Diggin a Grave
3.
4. It’s Been So Long
5. Drift off to Sleep
6. Letter from Huntsville
7. She Don’t Own Me
8. My Time Wasted
9. Little Boys Dream
10. You’re Only Lonely
11. Don’t Leave Me Now!

MICAH P. HINSON [i]AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT[/i] REVIEW

Singer/ songwriter Micah P. Hinson is a young man from Abilene, Texas who has seen a lot of trouble in his life including fast times with a Vogue model, addiction to prescription meds and an eventual arrest for passing bad checks – all before his 20th birthday. But when drugs, women and family had fled, there was still that guitar and the kind of lessons learned that were just burning to become songs. Hinson turned to music to help him pick up the pieces of his tattered life and has emerged reborn with an album that has him beating the sophomore slump. With a parched crackling voice, Hinson puts an unapologetic spin on his second album of world weary songs. At first listen, they sound simple enough. A few lyrics, sparse production brightened by some pretty picking, but after giving the whole disc a listen, boy do they pack a wallop.

The cocksure devil of youth has been mostly silenced for a stark look at what comes from living life in a throwaway fashion. “Diggin a Grave” features a harmonica playing a lively hoe down while Hinson sings bereft lyrics like “hoping the sun won’t ever come out and there’ll be no compromise again”. What has to be the most autobiographical tune though is “She Don’t Own Me”. It’s the highlight of the album and is completely uncompromising in its portrait of a disenchanted heart-broken youth. If you want one song that can sum up the lonesomeness of the sprawling Texas prairie – this is it!

Hinson tries to liven up the pace on a few songs by inviting what sounds like an entire county fair to come on in and play, but it doesn’t work half as well as when he keeps things stripped down and simple.

MICAH P. HINSON [I]AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT[/I] REVIEW

Rating: 8.0 / 10.0

To be a substitute teacher in California, you have to pass the CBEST test. It’s a ridiculously easy affair, which I failed the first time around because of what administrators described as "inappropriate sentiments" in the essay section. My "inappropriate sentiments" were in response to this question: "We have all heard the saying ‘Every dark cloud has a silver lining.’ Please respond to this." I think that statement is crap. What it means is that everything happens for a reason — something we are supposed to take comfort in. In my response, I wrote about a man who missed an interview due to car troubles and then lost his family and home and ended up dying alone on the street, lying in a filthy pile of rags. What was that man’s silver lining?

Micah P. Hinson’s bio plays up his dark clouds (past drug abuse, legal troubles, heartbreak) and presents his musical output as his silver lining. But I think the young Texan would bristle at such hackneyed representation. From his cracked voice on up to his profoundly simple lyrics, Hinson shows maturity beyond his years, maturity that understands that things don’t happen for a reason. Sometimes life is shitty, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes life stays shitty, and sometimes it gets better. The ability to take what you can from the bad times and use them to fortify your good times is what maturity means. If you need to take comfort in the thinly veiled predestination philosophy of such cliches — well, I’m sorry, dude.

Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit, Hinson’s second full-length, is one of the most dynamic and exceptional releases of 2006. It leans heavily on the old (country, folk, blues), but this isn’t dress-up; there is no image vetting. In a time when gimmick-driven bands such as the Killers and the Stills are playing out their classic-rock fantasies, the Springsteen-inspired brass hooks on Hinson’s "Jackeyed" and "Letter to Huntsville" ring with more honesty than anything else this year — hooks that make you feel something more than vague nostalgia. True too for the more indie-folk songs on the record, only M. Ward or Old Crow Medicine Show have produced purer Americana than the foot-stomping "Diggin a Grave" or the banjo plucked "She Don’t Own Me." The album closes with an arresting death-ballad, "Don’t Leave Me Now." A sample of Robert Johnson crawls under the fluttering of a reel-to-reel projector while the drone of a cello and a plaintive piano progression set up Hinson’s vocal delivery: "Don’t take me now/ I must confess/ Found the word digress and made it a home."

Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit is a pure expression of turmoil, a cathartic release through art that skillfully avoids self-obsessed mawkishness. Hinson and his band members build frames of sound around his voice and words, enhancing but not burying, as often spare as engulfing. Good music that came out of bad times, no silver lining necessary.

MICAH P. HINSON [I]AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT[/I] REVIEW

So, my brother calls me out of the blue one day and excitedly explains to me that he has discovered the most "amazing" singer-songwriter that he has heard in ages. I was skeptical, as he usually likes the absolute worst music imaginable within the punk, hardcore, and indie genres. Thus I returned his enthusiasm for this newfound artist, Micah P. Hinson, with a blasé attitude and a half hearted "Cool, I’ll check it out." A few months later my brother came to visit me. He puts on one of Hinson’s previous albums,Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress, and introduces me to him. What I heard that day was an incredibly down to earth sounding singer with great musical arrangements that had much character and color. I enjoyed it and went out of my way to gather what I could from Hinson.

Now, Micah P. Hinson readies his latest album for his new home Jade Tree. This may sound like an odd fit, but it sounds logical when one really thinks about it. Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit is a logical step in his growing body of work. To call it alt-country or folk or even indie would discredit the varied sound that Hinson displays with this album.

Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit begins like a slow rolling mid-summer evening that is hot and makes one in the mood to be incredibly lazy. "Seems Almost Impossible" has just that type of pacing with the whistling grasshoppers and guitar. As the harmonica kicks in, you settle in for the album the way you would to a tall glass of iced tea, or whatever your chosen poison is. By the time the vocals come humming in, you are engrossed. The album has its claws in you. The song is so slow it almost does not register that this is a song as opposed to a laid back conversation. "Diggin a Grave" changes the pace real nice with an accordion, banjo, harmonica, and stomping rhythm that propel the song into some kind of debauched sing-along in some hole bar in the Midwest. It is short and sweet. "Jackeyed" is an excellent track. The wide array of instrumentation that is utilized here from the Theremin to mariachi styled horns shows off Hinson’s ability to arrange music. The song has a great hook too that just tops it off right.

"Drift off to Sleep" is a great description for the song let alone the title. It perfectly describes the mood that it projects. One can visualize heavy lidded eyes on small faces that are fighting off the pull of nights slumber. The next song, "Letter from Huntsville" is rather upbeat and evokes images of some ragtime group with its bouncing horns. "She Don’t Own Me" has a great melody. It is one of my favorite tracks on Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit. "You’re Only Lonely" is one of the loudest songs on the record. The manner with which it builds in intensity adds to the overall effect of the song a great deal. "Don’t Leave Me Know" starts off with a similar lollygagging feel of the opener excepting the vocals leave the feeling of closing rather than beginning. The track eventually descends into a noisy mess to chase the album down to the end.

Micah P. Hinson has a weird charm to his vocals that seem to hold the album together. The way that he treats his arrangements like an orchestral arrangements, even though he does not use typical orchestral instrumentation, is a breath of fresh air in today’s glutted musical landscape. Don’t wait on this talented artist like I did. He is worth your listening time. Hinson is a gem that hopefully many people will discover on his newfound label here in the US. Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit is just as good a place as any to start. It is a good album and showcases his varied techniques and abilities. I have to give kudos to Jade Tree for putting Hinson’s records out and making them more readily available. I declare this a four-alarm hipster alert.

Rating: 8.5 / 10.0

MICAH P. HINSON [I]AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT[/I] REVIEW

On his third album, Texan singer-songwriter Hinson continues to travel those long, lonesome byways and pass on the melancholy tales that he finds there, in a raw, scraped voice heavy with gravitas. Themes of hope, bitterness, loss and regret swirl against a musical backing that likes to throw curve balls at you; a burst of up-tempo picking that opens one song momentarily lulls you into thinking the mood’s changed, until you notice that Hinson’s singing “I’m digging a grave in the moonlight” in an all-too-cheerful fashion. From the quiet acoustic guitar on the dreamy “Drift Off to Sleep” to the swinging horns on “Letter From Huntsville,” this is an album of melodic contrasts that maintains a somber feel throughout, yet, happily for the listener, it never fully gives in to despair.

MICAH P. HINSON SESSION

No pain, no gain.

Some guys have all the luck, some guys have all the pain. While most of us just pick our way through the kind of varied fortunes that might stop you dead in your tracks if you gave them any thought. After years of wayward behaviour – drugs, jail and general carousing – Texan singer/songwriter Micah P. Hinson struck lucky with The Gospel Of Progress, a wise-beyond-its-years collection of campfire ballads and homely acoustic tales. Great critical notices followed for this rakish young man with a fondness for prescription drugs.

Ironically, having kicked his early addiction to Xanax, Codeine and Soma, a severe back injury sustained while play-fighting with friends saw Hinson doped up on the same meds he’d previously been taking, just to be able to tour. Says the singer, “I had to get back on the horse and ride it again. It was like having to share a bed again with an ancient, ugly lover”.

Aggravating his back injury whilst on the road, Hinson was hospitalised immediately on his return to Texas. In crippling pain he endured all the ignominious apparatus of the infirm: shower stool, corset, walker. A young man in an old man’s situation. Unable to do anything but stare at the ceiling, he began writing songs.

Expectedly, the resultant second album, Micah P. Hinson And The Opera Circuit, is largely a rumination on loss and the vicissitudes of fortune. It’s the kind of album one might write whilst recuperating and talking familiar nonsense with friends. The Opera Circuit players travelled from around the world to record their parts sitting round a frequently bedbound Hinson, who calls the record “a victory over hardship and compromise”.

Tracks like the bittersweet She Don’t Own Me, or the red-eyed closer Don’t Leave Me Now prompt the kind of homespun wisdom about silver linings and darkest hours before dawn. Or, as they say in Texas, “Nothin’ dries as quick as a tear."

MICAH P. HINSON [I]AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT[/I] REVIEW

If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all" goes the well known saying. It could have been uttered by Micah Paul Hinson without a hint of irony and, after he’d told you his story, you would believe him. A member of our fair planet for a mere 24 years, Micah’s voice and general outlook on life betrays his age, but not the experiences that he has packed into those, relatively few, years. Starting a relationship with a widow of local rock star who also happened to be an ex-Vogue cover model might sound like every teen’s fantasy but when it leads to addiction (to prescription drugs), jail (for being caught forging prescriptions), disownment (by his christian fundamentalist family), homelessness and finally bankruptcy, the razor thin line between fantasy and nightmare is brought into sharp focus.

It’s something of a miracle that during this turbulent period he managed to write any songs at all, let alone the one’s that became his debut album, Micah P. Hinson & The Gospel of Progress. A superb, if somewhat downbeat, peek at the human psyche in the aftermath of a relationship gone (horribly) wrong. It’s a bruised beauty of an album that somehow manages to elate the soul while at the same time sounding like a soul slowly dying. The emotion and sense of world weariness conveyed heightens the timelessness of the melodic and, at times, heartbreaking songs on show. Mini album The Baby & The Satellite, containing songs written before The Gospel of Progress but never properly recorded, was released the following year and matched it’s predecessor’s brilliance whilst sounding slightly more hopeful. If the standard could be maintained the people lucky enough to be listening at this stage (both albums were the definition of critical success/commercial failure) were witnesses to the birth of seriously talented artist that would be around for years to come.

And so we come to his third release, Micah P. Hinson & The Opera Circuit. Clearly time has not improved relations with Lady Luck as this album was written and recorded during a period spent recovering from a major back injury (caused by a slap on the back at a party, you really couldn’t make it up). Mournful opener ‘It Seems Almost Impossible’ gently eases us into the album and is similar in mood to the debut album. Understated strings along with the gentle sound of crickets (!) add a quiet, dreamlike quality to the track and it could almost be described as a lullaby.

The pace picks up on ‘Diggin A Grave" which is part hoedown, part rollicking gypsy drinking song. Banjo and Violin are at the forefront and give the first indications that this album contains a broader spectrum of moods than previous efforts. It could hang around a little longer though, at only two minutes in length.

"Jackeyed" is the first great moment of the album. Finger picked guitar intro, a great vocal, harmonica and brass combine fabulously on a lament to a girl that says she wants to be stick around, even though her actions say otherwise "It’s hard to think you care/when it’s hard to find you almost anywhere/And will I know you better in a year?/Just keep hoping that it will be better in a year?" The vocal and lyrics switch from exasperation to resignation to understanding and back again, and conveys the frustration of the situation perfectly.

‘It’s Been So Long’ is another highlight. A great string section and a chorus that you’ll be singing along to at the top of your voice after one listen. And if you know of another song with the word ‘unsatisfactable’ in it, give yourself a (gentle) slap on the back.

The mood of Gospel of Progress is visited again on ‘Drift Off To Sleep’. Quiet guitar strumming, an aching vocal and a gorgeous violin part three quarters of the way through leave you feeling reflective, emotional, and wanting to call the one you love.

With the string section playing such an integral part of the album, it’s perhaps fitting that one of the highlights of the album is ‘Little Boys Dream’, Micah’s own Eleanor Rigby. Consisting of just him singing along to a string section it’s the strongest indication yet that he’s an artist that will continue to grow and experiment with each album.

The album is closed superbly by ‘You’re Only Lonely’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me Now!’. The former starts of normal enough but builds to, what can only be described as, a rock-out, replete with frantic rat-a-rat drumming, and chaotic brass and strings. The rock-out must have taken it out of him because the latter track finds him pleading "Don’t leave me Now/I must confess/haven’t been the worse/haven’t been the best since you came over a simple piano. Repeated over and over they have a hypnotic effect and the gradual introduction of strings and radio static sound effects swell until they collapse in an ear popping crescendo, giving way to a string laden outro. It reassures us that after the pain, chaos and disorder there will always be beauty, simplicity and serenity at the other end.

Micah P Hinson could well be the embodiment of the phrase ‘old soul’. His weary, honey toned voice has just the right amount of grit to convince you that he has lived every word of his songs. Combined with often spine tingling instrumentation and his innate sense of melody it results in a sound and experience that, once heard, will never be forgotten. The raw emotion that is often in evidence, not only on this album but all his albums, has the rare ability to comfort when comfort is needed and inspire when inspiration is required. Will success and a helping hand from Lady Luck change all that? I don’t know, but if one man deserves to be given the opportunity to find out it’s Micah. Buy the album and then spread the word.

Micah P. Hinson Trades Codeine For The Opera Circuit

Abilene, Texas singer/songwriter Micah P. Hinson navigated his way through a maze of freak injury, drug addiction and surgery while assembling his latest album, Micah P. Hinson And The Opera Circuit.

The new record, due out October 10 on Jade Tree, follows The Baby And The Satellite EP. It’s an account of the two most dismal years of the young musician’s life.

"I was in hospital for weeks," says Hinson. "I couldn’t turn myself for over a month, had a walker, a corset, shower chair, as I couldn’t properly stand, I had to piss sitting down for a while, basically a living nightmare."

Hinson’s rough time came about after the release of his critically acclaimed 2004 debut, Micah P. Hinson And The Gospel Of Progress, because of a seemingly harmless prank. A punch in the back from a friend right before he was about to embark on a European tour led to chronic and debilitating pain.

Hinson was forced to rely on medication while performing, and he subsequently became addicted to Codeine, Soma, Xanax, Neurontin and other prescription drugs that he had an earlier addiction to before the release of his first album. After returning home, he was admitted to hospital and had surgery on his ailing back.

"The reason why I tell you all these things is because I want you to see and read where my life was when I began and finished this new full-length record," Hinson says. "I did the majority of the recordings sitting around the house during the times I could actually get out of bed. Friends came to Abilene from all over to record their parts."

The friends that Hinson speaks of include Eric Bachmann (Archers Of Loaf, Crooked Fingers), who arranged the strings and horns and played saxophone, and Gospel Of Progress collaborator H. Da Massa, who travelled from England to play harmonica. Eleven other musicians also contributed, while Hinson produced the album and played a wide variety of instruments.

Micah P. Hinson Hits The Opera Circuit

Abilene, Texas native Micah P. Hinson had a slight hiccup between his 2004 debut Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress and his upcoming follow-up Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit, due October 10 on Jade Tree. In a classic case of "it’s all fun and games until somebody gets their back poked out", an over-excited friend punched Hinson in the back, a playful prank which over the next few weeks developed into an unrelenting injury marked by debilitating pain. After toughing out a European tour aided by becoming addicted to Codeine, Soma, Xanax, and Neurontin, Hinson returned to America and immediately underwent back surgery to mend the injury.

During the slow recovery period following the operation is when Hinson recorded Opera Circuit, inviting friends to come to Abilene and help out. Eric Bachmann (of Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers) assembled the string and horn arrangements while Gospel of Progress vet H. Da Massa performed harmonica. The album doesn’t contain any diatribes railing against friends sucker-punching friends in the back, but it wouldn’t be unwarranted if it did.

Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit:

01 Seems Almost Impossible
02 Diggin a Grave
03 Jackeyed
04 It’s Been So Long
05 Drift off to Sleep
06 Letter From Huntsville
07 She Don’t Own Me
08 My Time Wasted
09 Little Boys Dream
10 You’re Only Lonely
11 Don’t Leave Me Now!

With his back on the mend, Hinson is headed out on a short West Coast Tour with anti-Pitchfork crusader David Bazan, starting tonight in Portland, Oregon. Then he heads to Europe for some festival appearances.

Micah P. Hinson and the Two-Week U.S. Tour:

07-19: Portland, OR – Doug Fir *
07-20: Eugene, OR – WOW Hall *
07-21 Chico, CA – Market Café *
07-22 Modesto, CA – Xclamation Festival *
07-23 Pomona, CA – Glass House *
07-24 San Diego, CA – The Casbah *
07-25 Los Angeles, CA – Tangiers *
07-27 San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill *
07-29 Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern *
08-12 Saint-Malo, France – La Route du Rock
08-19 Powys, Wales – Green Man Festival
10-04 London, England – ULU

* with David Bazan

MICAH P. HINSON AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT CD (JT1117) ALBUM INFO AND MP3


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On the full-length follow up to his critically acclaimed EP, MICAH P. HINSON offers a substantiated account of misery and triumph, evoking translucent memories and physical struggle. Recorded, arranged and produced mainly at home in Abilene, TX during an ironically twisted period of heavy medication and physical torment brought on from recent back surgery, is the product of rallying above physical torment, facing proverbial closeted skeletons and discovering eventual resolution through the power of euphonic connection. Supported by a revolving cast of seasoned players, including Eric Bachmann (Crooked Fingers), The Opera Circuit imparts a newfound, expansive and virtual basement jam quality to Hinson’s trademark no man’s land take on hushed, emotive balladry. At the end of the tunnel, Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit is a veritable reminder that progress through pain can be intimate, heartfelt and epically necessary.

Micah P. Hinson and The Opera Circuit will be released on October 10th. now to have the album shipped to you on September 22nd.

TRACK LISTING
1. Seems Almost Impossible
2. Diggin a Grave
3.
4. It’s Been So Long
5. Drift off to Sleep
6. Letter from Huntsville
7. She Don’t Own Me
8. My Time Wasted
9. Little Boys Dream
10. You’re Only Lonely
11. Don’t Leave Me Now!

Micah will be on the road this month with label mate for a tour of the west coast. See the MICAH P. HINSON for the complete tour information.

Micah P. Hinson [I]Saying ‘Thank You’ in a Love Song[/I]

By the time he turned 20, Micah P. Hinson had already stared down drug problems, jail time, homelessness and financial ruin, so he comes by his dour world-weariness honestly. His difficult background also goes a long way toward explaining the depth of the appreciation he conveys on his warm and wonderful "The Day the Volume Won." In just under two and a half minutes, Hinson, now 25, bears the weight of his feelings as if it were the weight of the world.

"Despite all that I have done / you rescued me from me," Hinson sings with equal parts loving gratitude and grim resignation. The clarity of his expression, and the belief in his own salvation, radiates so purely that it momentarily becomes unclear whether he’s singing to a loved one or a benevolent God. Regardless, for a song Hinson wrote at the tail end of his teens, "The Day the Volume Won" suggests an acute understanding of a lifetime’s worth of failure, disappointment and stubborn hope.

After the recent release of his The Baby & The Satellite EP (a marvelous collection of reworked early material and demos), Hinson’s prolific year continues with a full-length solo album in October, as well as Lights from the Wheelhouse, an intriguing EP recorded with The Earlies’ John-Mark Lapham under the name The Late Cord. The latter collection, slated for a July 25 release, is highlighted by the mesmerizing "My Most Meaningful Relationships Are With Dead People" (bonus audio). A hypnotic seven-minute dirge that brings to mind a collaboration between TV on the Radio and Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti at half-speed, the track demonstrates Hinson’s fully formed gift for brooding, deliberately paced beauty.

MICAH P. HINSON [I]THE BABY AND THE SATELLITE[/I] REVIEW

Rating: 7.3

Micah P. Hinson’s The Baby and the Satellite is slathered with quote unquote authenticity, sounding like it sort of accidentally wandered into a studio with all of its possessions tied up in a handkerchief on a stick. (To drive the point home, many songs here are bracketed by field recordings of appropriately mundane and melancholic sounds– hissing buses, ambient street chatter, crying babies.) The young Texas-based singer’s gloomy desert-country stays pragmatically simple enough to pluck out on the back of a trotting burro, and his voice has that creased and cracked, sun-baked quality that makes you imagine he plays a mean harmonica (thankfully, he refrains).

This verisimilitude is often chalked up to Hinson’s checkered, archetypal life story– reared by wild-eyed snake handlers in the deep South; escaped into the arms of a noir vixen in the even deeper South; freebased rat-poison; did a stint in the bing; recorded on a busted reel-to-reel in an outhouse; whatever. The point is that Hinson’s just about one messy divorce short of an outlaw-country-cred royal flush. But in this day of James Freys, JT Leroys, and other assorted hyperauthors, who’s to say? For all we know, Hinson recorded The Baby and the Satellite in between shifts at the Dippin’ Dots stand in the waterpark on his summer break from UT. But even if this were true, it wouldn’t change the profound sorrow embedded in this album one iota. So it does us no good to dwell on derivation. Nor does it behoove us to focus on the plaintive lyrics, which, detailing the typical manifestations of despair and heartbreak, range from serviceably striking to harmlessly trite. What makes Hinson worthwhile is knack for couching sumptuous melodies in stately, staid arrangements, and how his music tends to be solemn and catchy at once.

These songs predate Hinson’s 2005 debut, The Gospel of Progress; they’re re-recorded versions of his 2001 demo. That entire half-hour demo is included on The Baby and the Satellite’s final track, and while it’s nice to hear the songs in their embryonic stage, the eight studio knock-ups are the keepers. The album starts strong with “The Dreams You Left Behind” (and ends strong – a starker version of “Dreams” closes the album, bending the song cycle into a purgatorial ring-shape), where an expressive acoustic guitar lead draws out a bright yet sorrowful phrase as Hinson, double-tracked Iron & Wine style, shades his gently gruff moan with a weary falsetto. Hinson is at his best when he’s prayerful, cradling his melodies as gently as his rough voice will allow, which he does beautifully on “Dreams” and especially on “The Leading Guy”. Amid a hearty acoustic strum and a mist of mournful keyboards, Hinson swings between hoarsely barked verses and the hymn-like refrain of “He moved on to God knows where," arresting in its reverence and repetition. And “Wasted Away” burbles and wavers around a silvery lead, flowing like a lazy, frosty river. Whether Hinson’s an honest-to-god desert maniac or not becomes sort of irrelevant when the music’s hanging dark and heavy on the air.