November 7, 2006
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.
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