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August 22, 2006

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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.

No Ordinary Music

Paul Matusavage