(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Recording review - Johnny Hickman, Tilting (2012)

Folky roots rock with country twang and new wave punch

Tilting is Johnny Hickman's second solo album. Plenty of people know the Cracker co-founder's rock side, but Hickman also has strong country-folk influences that he's shown with the Hickman-Dalton Gang. Tilting plays like Hickman's eclectic history. It's a melting pot of folky roots rock with moments of country twang and new wave punch, plus a few other surprises.

Cracker fans might prefer the rocking numbers, like the snide Elvis Costello post punk of Sick Cynthia Thing or the indie rock sneer of Takin' Me Back. This latter track could turn up on a Cracker album, but it really nails a Beat Farmers country rock groove. The lyrics are clever and clueless as Hickman sings from the perspective of someone who doesn't realize "she's just not that into you":
She needs a break for our relationship's sake
Takin' me back, takin' me back, she will be
So, I give her space, but I call her in case
She's takin' me back, takin' me back, she will be

Someone says she's missing me

Lost in her regret
Feels more like she misses me
Every chance she gets
Sharp and punchy, it's a strong contrast to Tilting's rootsier tracks that lean towards folk rock. Those songs lay down a simple sound to support Hickman's lyrical message, from calling out the greedy and venal on Measure of a Man to the his philosophical musings on Destiny Misspent. Hickman is comfortable with this stripped down approach and he gives the songs room to breathe.

One track, though, is a complete outlier. The jazzy blues of Papa Johnny's Arms has some great guitar work and it could easily fit on a Leon Redbone disc. It's a fun song, with a polished sound and smooth flow. The guitar solo is particularly nice - not quite Django, but with a taste of gypsy jazz. But as much as I like the laid back vamp, it breaks up the album's flow.

Even so, Johnny Hickman is confident in his choices and Tilting is anything but a single niche album.

(As a contrast from the link above, here's another track, Another Road.)

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