Oh, how I adore the Internet. Without it, I would have never known that, according to celebmatch.com, I’m 96% compatible with teen heartthrob Jesse McCartney (based on birthdays, of course). Without the Internet, I would have never found out that a kid from my graduating high school class was arrested for getting completely naked at a Mr. Greek Week talent contest (knowing this kid, I’m not so surprised that this was his talent). Nor would I have subsequently found out that the winner of said Mr. Greek Week contest was a roller blade dancer. Yes, a roller blade dancer. And, lest we forget, without the Internet, you would not be reading the fabulous review you are currently reading.
But, recently, some of the most important things that I have learned with the help of this wondrous tool are about our current subject, Micah P. Hinson. Hinson’s got one of those great rock `n’ roll stories that will be repeated with every single feature or review that you will read about him. So here it is. Hinson, born in Memphis, Tennessee, moved to Abilene, Texas with his family where he became part of the local music scene. Here Hinson met his muse, a former Vogue model and rock star widow. But along with inspiration came narcotics, closely followed by heartbreak and bankruptcy. But don’t fear for our hero, my dear reader, throughout this dark period Hinson continued writing and in the winter of 2003, he hooked up with fellow Texans the Earlies and thus the Gospel of Progress was formed.
I learned all of this from Hinson’s website and, most importantly, after hearing Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress for the first time. To tell you the truth, after even one listen, this information was very unsurprising. The “Black Widow,” as Hinson now calls his former flame, is the subject of the record and lyrically (sometimes a little repetitively) it does not stray very far from its topic. This is certainly not a bad thing and fits well with the hint of a Southern twang in Hinson’s voice, which makes him sound like a straight Stephen Merritt without the wittiness and a pack-and-a-half day habit.
Picking a good name for your backing band is a very important decision, one of the most important decisions a band will ever make. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble. Neko Case and Her Boyfriends. The Gospel of Progress most definitely fits in with these hall-of-fame worthy backing band names but whether they fit with Hinson is another story. Hinson is at his peak when he is alone with his guitar, or at least when he doesn’t let the Gospel of Progress overwhelm him. When the Earlies aren’t the Gospel of Progress, they commit the same sins as Hinson. They write huge, epic songs with gorgeous orchestration but it’s just too much. “Don’t You (Part 1 & 2),” has a really nice build up but Hinson’s vocals are completely drowned out by the band. Songs like “Beneath the Rose,” beginning with the album’s best guitar work, proves that Hinson is at his best when he is playing the simple country crooner and doesn’t overdo it.
I’m not saying Hinson should completely do away with orchestration and the Gospel as a whole. “The Nothing,” for example, is heartbreakingly beautiful and proves that Hinson can handle the barrage of strings behind him. “The Day Texas Sank to the Bottom of the Sea,” is where the Gospel really shines, with some really nice backing vocals (which actually resemble a gospel choir) and a really nice use of a Hammond organ. They are epic without being annoyingly so and, all Dubya jokes aside, this song is the highlight of the album
The Build Up is an incredibly important piece of any song and Hinson has really perfected the art of the Build Up. The equally important Break Down, on the other hand, is a completely different story. A lot of Hinson’s songs, like album opener “Close Your Eyes,” get the listener all hot and bothered for what’s to come, but then it just ends. After I listened to the song for the first time I couldn’t help thinking, “Wait, where did the rest of it go?” Its almost as if Hinson puts all of his effort into the beginning of the song that he kind of forgets about the rest. Try post-it notes next time, Micah, they always work for me.
This is a really nice debut for an emerging singer-songwriter but he should have more confidence in his abilities and not let the Gospel of Progress overpower him. Let the Earlies save the huge orchestration for their own records. Let’s have a little more Micah and a little less Gospel.
The Earlies – These Were the Earlies
American Music Club – Love Songs for Patriots
Lambchop – Nixon