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Micah P. Hinson

Sketchbook/Jade Tree

The second cut on the Micah P. Hinson’s latest album, Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit, is also one of the happiest. It’s not exuberant exactly, but it’s an uptempo, jug-band-ready foot-stomper against which Hinson sings, “I’m digging a grave in the moonlight…hoping the sun won’t ever come up, and there’ll be no compromise again.” That it takes death for Hinson to work up this much energy is appropriate—a happy song about death fits right in on an album with so many sad songs about life. The album opener, “Seems Almost Impossible,” starts with crickets chirping and is so slight it’s over before it really gets started (fitting for a world where “dreams are never going to come true”). By the time track seven, “She Don’t Own Me,” ends (with the words “I don’t own her/And she don’t owe me a thing/’Cause I ain’t calling and she can see the end”), it has done an awful lot of meandering: opening with 30 seconds of banjo warm-up and moving on to a more-than-minute-long instrumental before Hinson begins singing. Disc-closer “Don’t Leave Me Now!” is also unbearably light. The sound collage that pops up toward the end sounds like it’s gonna build to an “A Day in the Life”–style apocalypse, but when it finishes, it, too, just passes through. Lyrically and musically, Hinson’s mood is often resigned, even on songs that find him and his band thrashing out a bit, such as “You’re Only Lonely,” which, thanks in part to some tight playing and the cement provided by Hinson’s voice (imagine a subdued Tom Waits), breaks the mold without breaking the mood. Hinson’s world isn’t always depressing—buoyant horns, for example, underscore a song about escaping to California (“Letter From Huntsville”) and take some of the edge off of his concerns in “Jackeyed” about “the heart that struggles and chokes down all the things it will never know.” In the same song, he sings about “finding the truth in your own ways,” and if that can be an uncertain process, it’s one that has found its match in the album’s occasional slightness and tendency to meander. (“Found the word ‘digress’ and made it a home,” Hinson sings on “Don’t Leave Me Now!”) Don’t expect the overwrought emotions of opera—but when an album’s title is its only major misstep, well, that’s something to be happy about.—Joe Dempsey