Tag Archives: Tom Waits

Micah Hinson and the Opera Circuit

6 May

Micah Hinson

In the baritonic vein of Bill Callahan, Tom Waits, David Berman and Lou Reed, Micah Hinson is charged as another in a short line of confessional sentimentalists with a woodworker-like grasp of crafting songs.

I am always eager to listen to an artist who comes recommended from spectral ends. For instance, Hinson’s name came up while reading about Yo La Tengo and again while reading about Lambchop (his most glaring comp). I’m regrettably late to the game on Hinson since he’s been releasing music since 2004.

Hinson, apparently of cult status for better or worse, released Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit in 2006.

Hinson opens the album with the sweet sounding and downtrodden “Seems Almost Impossible” and reminds me of what outlaw country might sound like with a no-wave influence (no, I never really wondered). The structure of the song, despite lyrically being a traditional folk song, creates an ocean of sonic space and the air of a dream. Like Berman before him, his broken dreams and heart are salvageable.

Just when you give in to the Richard Hawley-like pace of song one, Hinson comes out of nowhere with “Diggin’ A Grave,” a fun-as-all-hell backwoods gypsy chant confronting death with no reservations. “Diggin’ a grave in the moonlight/Diggin’ a grave where we lay/Hoping the sun won’t ever come up/There’ll be no compromise again.” It’s got a Faustian feel and a violin to boot. Don’t listen to this song if you’re trying to avoid bad things. Or do.

Hinson again switches gears to his version of an anthemic summersong  “Jackeyed.” Like George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” Hinson reminds us, hopefully, that that includes the bad things. It’s telling that Hinson, despite being sincerely optimisic, must remind himself and those around him that things will be better, struggles will be worthwhile, but life sucks at the moment.

The true color and character of Hinson’s voice arrives immediately on the next song, “It’s Been So Long.” Although it’s unclear who Hinson is addressing, the recurring stanza resurrects Tim Hardin’s “Black Sheep Boy.” Hinson: “It’s been so long/Since I’ve seen you home/Open hands and teeth and hearts/And dreams I never can compete.” Hardin: “Here I am back home again/I am here to rest/All they ask is where I’ve been/Knowing I’ve been West.” The same sadness, same ne’er-do-well quality, the same impossibilities.

“She Don’t Own Me” is a gorgeous piece of music. Musically, the song switches pace and even genre multiple times before Hinson even starts singing. First a speed-pickin’ bluegrass number that abruptly transitions to a Neil Young-like guitar strum, which finally turns into the sweeping sounds of coming to terms with parting ways.

The very first note of the last song of the album, despite being uncompromisingly heartbreaking, is that rare sound that actually informs the listener. It puts you in an appropriate place. “Don’t Leave Me Now” is a lament about a vague place in life, a bold topic to write about. A lot of material – both good and bad – is written about life’s ups – love, sex, parties, etc. – and downs – heartbreak, addiction, war, etc.. Little, however, is written of the middling stages and the unknown because of the difficulty of articulating such a place in song. Not a good place, not a bad place. This is Hinson welcoming you to his life in media res, the in-between.