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.

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