Friday, August 08, 2008

Micah P. Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra

The problem with creating an amazing debut album is that your subsequent work is always going to be held up against that first masterwork. Many artists have been in this position, and Micah P. Hinson is one of them. Mind you, his 'debut' album wasn't technically his first, though it was the first to get released. Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress was a gutsy, rocking soulful triumph, which set a very high standard for all its successors.

Though his next album The Opera Circuit was good, it may have been unfavourably compared with its predecessor. But the arrival of Micah's new album The Red Empire Orchestra heralds an exciting new chapter in his canon. He's in a different place now to the one which led to the anguished screams on The Opera Circuit. His lyrics and music may still be loaded with melancholy, but there's a lighter touch. There are positive, almost lovelorn lyrics which perhaps reflect his current happier and recently-married state, and there are plenty of strings. Sure, he's had strings on his records before, but they're so much more noticeable here - at times you could even describe the album as lush.

There's also a certain swagger and at least a couple of songs sound like a gruffer, American Richard Hawley. Other songs just ache with beauty. Then, just to show us that he doesn't need any embellishment to write a great tune, we have just Micah's glorious lived-in voice and quiet accompanying acoustic guitar on The Fire Came Up to My Knees. I'm not sure yet that Red Empire is up to the heights of his debut, but each listen reveals more brilliance and it's already clear that we have a classic in the making. And two albums of the year contenders this week already is pretty good going.

Here's my current favourite track off the album, plus three songs Micah did for a recent Marc Riley BBC 6 Music live session, with added banjo action and including a new, unreleased tune.

mp3: Micah P. Hinson - Sunrise Over the Olympus Mons
mp3: Micah P. Hinson - When We Embraced (live on BBC 6Music)
mp3: Micah P. Hinson - There's Only One Name (live on BBC 6Music)
mp3: Micah P. Hinson - Tell Me It Ain't So (live on BBC 6Music)

Buy The Red Empire Orchestra from Rough Trade (they have a special book-bound CD edition with two bonus tracks at the moment).


Campfires and Battlefields said...

Ah. I was wondering when someone would get around to reviewing this. Superb innit? At least the 5 or so tracks I've heard so far. It amazes me how little attention Micah P. Hinson gets here in the States. One of the truly great, unique American voices in the world right now, and we almost totally ignore him. If he keeps producing tunes of this caliber that'll have to change. These BBC6performances are top notch. The Rough Trade special edition CD is out of stock now by the way.

The Daily Growl said...

It is great. Let's hope he gets more recognition over your way soon. Funny how we keep selling your own music and artists back to you - everything from acid house to The White Stripes.

Shame about the ltd. CD - I've seen it in some other shops too, so there should be some more kicking about at the mo.

Matthew said...

I am only just ordering this from Amazon now. I tried every record shop in the States while I was on holiday and no-one bloody had it. I'm so looking forward to hearing the thing, and I think you're being hard on the Opera Circuit - I thought it was brilliant, anguished howls and all!

The Daily Growl said...

Don't get me wrong, I still really rate Opera Circuit. Just that it pales beside Gospel of Progress IMO. But then again, most albums this decade pale beside Gospel.

New one is really really good. Can't stop listening...

Matthew said...

I don't think it does. That angry edge gives it a bit more depth, from my point of view. The tail end of some of the songs, where he really goes nuts, count as some of the most nakedly revealing moments in music for some time in my book.