Micah P. Hinson – ‘Micah P. Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra’

September 7, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, September 4, 2008.

Micah P. Hinson
Micah P. Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra
(Pod/Inertia)

Twenty-something Texan songsmith Micah P. Hinson has his thing and he sticks to it. His troubled-troubadour shtick is a music journalist’s wet dream. Having grown up in a Christian Fundamentalist household in the town of Abilene, he fell in with the wrong crowd, the wrong lover, the wrong drugs and ended up on the skids – without a home, a car and pretty much everything else. His grandfather, so the story goes, payed for a motel room and it was here, alone with his guitar, that Hinson wrote the songs that made up Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress, his epic, gruffly beautiful 2004 debut.

The period since has been one of staggering prolificacy, with Hinson dropping two records – The Baby and the Satellite and the weary Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit – in 2006 and touring endlessly.

On the surface, fourth album Micah P. Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra toes a similar line to its predecessors. There’s the hard-luck back-story – this time a slipped disc, endless medical treatments and a year self-doubt – the croaked-voice lament, the tender, heart-torn balladry. “Constantly craving what isn’t mine,” he croons over the pleasantly limping percussion of ‘Tell Me it Ain’t So’. The theme continues on mournful closer ‘Dyin’ Alone’.

But while it treads similar territory thematically, Red Empire Orchestra’s world opens up with its deft musicality. Strings come to the fore here and Hinson allows gradually sweeping arrangements and swathes of atmosphere to flood his bare-boned guitar and vocal vignettes. The plodding banjo an double bass of ‘When We Embraced’, the austerely strung overture of ‘I Keep Having These Dreams’ and the drunken slide and string section of ‘Sunrise Over the Olympus Mons’ all make for sophisticated outings. The narcotic rhythm and roll balladry of ‘We Won’t Have to be Lonesome’ and the plaintive, ambience and drone-drowned beauty of ‘The Wishing Well and the Willow Tree’ are other highlights.

Micah P. Hinson may be covering predictable ground with his lyrics, but so has the entire noir-country idiom that he so closely references. Red Empire Orchestra’s development comes with its perceptive composition and arrangement. Hard-luck stories or no, it’s worth nearly every moment for that alone.

Dan Rule

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