Review of Micah P Hinson's album All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers
The covers album rarely inspires; usually a gesture of flatulent self-indulgence or contract fulfilment, notably winning executions are few, although Cat Power's Jukebox springs to mind as a rare contemporary example. Micah P. Hinson's career to date consists of just three original albums, with his last, ...and the Red Empire Orchestra just like its predecessors collecting favourable reviews from the alt-Americana crowd but hardly setting the world on fire. With the beard-free nation interested but hardly enthralled, you could argue that this would be even less cause to follow it up almost immediately with a double volume of "Re-imagined" blasts from the past, but judged by his actions this son of Tenessee certainly can't be accused of lacking ambition.
For those unfamiliar, the first thing to attempt to bring to life Hinson's voice, a thing best described as sounding a little like a toad with a crushed larynx singing into a rusty pail full of bricks. The kind of messed-up growl which those of you familiar with the character of Agent Graves in the 100 Bullets novels might imagine would possess, it's made even more remarkable when considering that Hinson looks like a young Woody Allen, but has yet to hit 30.
Whilst it's a voice that's full of raw idiosyncrasy, the artists choice of covers is to say the least ambitious. Breaking All Dressed Up And Smelling of Strangers into two parts, the first half is a largely unplugged affair, leaving the listener sat nervously and alone with just a guitar and Hinson's sandpaper gargle for company. The experience will probably enthral devotees of Tom Waits, but everybody else - particularly fans of Bob Dylan (Times They Are A Changin'), Leonard Cohen (Suzanne) and even Ol' Blue Eyes himself - will probably be squirming nervously whilst looking for the mute button. Whilst Sinatra fails to do much for me, even I have to say that the closing version of My Way succeeds in unnecessarily stripping away all the pathos and over-extended hubris that made the original such ideal karaoke fodder. I suspect though that this is the point.
The second volume is an improvement, with the addition of more instrumental punch. Patsy Cline's Stop The World (And Let Me Off) gets the full Glasvegas treatment, sounding ironically far more like Roy Orbison in delivery than the preceding Runnin' Scared. Elsewhere, Leadbelly's Where Did You Sleep Last Night (Yeeees, the one from Nirvana's Unplugged show) grinds appreciably, whilst now evidently having discovered a taste for this stuff, Hinson renders Buddy Holly's Listen To Me into a brutalised Pixies soundscape.
Masochists will be pleased to discover that despite this nod towards convention, there's also plenty of misses: Elvis fans will cringe at Are You Lonesome Tonight being emasculated, a superfluous cover of Santo and Johnny's Sleepwalk adds nothing to the original and The Beatles Whilst My Guitar Gently Weeps drags the whole exercise to a ponderous close. To say that Hinson has de-constructed these classics is obvious, but whether the shapes he's bent them back into are simply for personal edification is a different story.