Release, Kitchen, Wolf's Footprint, Friday Morn', Unprotected,
Palisdades, Breaking, So Many Pieces, Wheel, Soul Asylum, Walking
is my third solo record. That's me on the cover (photo by Sally
Dworsky) on my son's scooter in front of our old house in Los
Feliz, CA. This is a mixture of home and studio recordings produced
by Jeff Peters.
musicians: Sally Dworsky, Andy Kamman, Al Wolovitch, Andy Stoller,
Mark Shark, Patrick Warren, Greg Herzenach, Jeff Peters, and
VIDEO with Sally Dworsky:
20 Recordings of 2003 - Mike Bennett: January, 2004 -fufkin.com
Hickey – Release (Work-Fire): I can't quite call Hickey
underrated, since he's spent so little time even near the spotlight.
Two major label one shots and two solo albums in the ‘80s
aren't quite enough to establish a presence. But I think he
is one of the best singer-songwriters I have ever heard. He
has a voice that commands attention – not because of some
incredible range, but because his voice has a plaintive intensity.
It is perfect for his concise sketch-like lyrics that don't
tell the whole story, yet give you enough to go on. His music
is likewise simple. He knows the secret of the perfect bridge
and the ultimate chord change that can lift a song into sublime
territory. This album is haunting and beautiful, vulnerable
Hickey's peripatetic career has found him issuing two excellent
and hard-to-find lo-fi solo albums, as well as performing with
folk-rock trio, Show of Hands, and the more recent Americana-influenced
Uma, over the span of two decades. With Release, he returns
to his homegrown roots, crafting minimalist songs with sparse
instrumentation. Painterly, imagistic and self-questioning,
he writes quiet ruminations on the human condition that are
deeply personal, yet with subtly ingratiating hooks. Hickey's
songs decline the overblown bombast of today's singing-songwriting
blowhards, largely deferring to graceful, folk-style acoustic
accompaniment behind his burnished vocals. Cello underpins the
contemplative "Kitchen," with close harmonies by Hickey's
paramour, Sally Dworsky; should-be hits "Friday Morn'"
and "Palisades" belie sparkling pop nuances; '60s-styled
psychedelia echoes through "So Many Pieces" and "Wheel."
Judicious use of percussion, bass, accordion and keyboards augment
songs in an almost subliminal fashion. The 11 tracks here are
pithy and immediate, clutter- and fat-free, the antithesis of
the CD era's largess. Once the last track, "Walking Away"
finishes, you will find yourself drawn back - naturally and
effortlessly - to the beginning. - Larry O. Dean / AMPLIFIER
"Kitchen," the standout track of his third solo record,
Chris Hickey sings, "If my vision fails when I'm crossing
over / I'll use my hands like anyone / Sometimes a nail in my
kitchen table rises / I hammer it down like I would in anyone
else's kitchen." The musical accompaniment is understated
but evocative: palm-muted eighth notes on acoustic guitar, well-placed
cello swells, shaker and percussion loops, and the ringing vocal
harmonies of Hickey and his former Uma bandmate Sally Dworsky.
Like most of the tunes on Release, the quiet but powerful "Kitchen"
resonates long after the last note has rung out. Although his
wordplay sometimes recalls Dylan, Hickey also has a knack for
sharp, melodic tunes that are evocative in spite of their simplicity.
Twenty-five years ago, Hickey was a member of the Spoilers,
an LA punk/pop band influenced by Johnny Rotten and Bruce Springsteen.
He recorded solo records in 1985 and 1987, plus albums with
the bands Show of Hands and Uma. Release doesn't betray his
hard-rocking roots, but it definitely reveals a talent born
of experience and persistence. It makes you want to check out
his previous work and, more importantly, look forward to what
he'll produce next.
Drew Pearce / ACOUSTIC GUITAR
you haven't heard of Chris Hickey, I wouldn't hold it against
you. This is only his third solo recording, the first two coming
out in 1985 and 1987. He also played a big role in two bands
that released a single album apiece -- Show Of Hands and Uma.
This means in 18 years, this is basically his fifth release
(not including a punk band he played in earlier in the ‘80s).
So he's not taken the Robert Pollard/Guided By Voices release-anything-you've-ever-recorded
strongly feel that you will be a more satisfied music fan if
you hear Chris Hickey. Hickey sings acoustic folk songs that
often edge into pop song territory. He is an astute lyricist,
capable of eliciting a great deal of emotion and more than his
fair share of trenchant observations. His voice compliments
this perfectly. The closest comparison I can make, and I've
been making it since 1985, is T-Bone Burnett. And that isn't
so close. So I'll just say that Hickey's vocals are a key component
that elevate his music to greatness.
first two solo platters, Frames Of Mind, Boundaries Of Time
and Looking For Anything, were classic home recordings. The
plaintive and intimate quality of Hickey's music does not require
top flight production, and both of those records had a winning
combination of intensely memorable songs (including the superb
"I Can't Wait to See You") and songs that delved into
everything from personal politics to poetry to trenchant observations
of how people are.
am happy to report that other than a slight expansion of his
musical vocabulary and more sophisticated production, Chris
Hickey has not changed one iota since 1985. The voice is there,
the songs are there. Hickey keeps his melodies basic and is
equally economical with his words. Perhaps one good comparison
would be Ron Sexsmith – not so much in sound as in approach.
There is simply nothing wasted here. Each song is as long as
it needs to be. Hickey makes his point, makes it memorably and
moves on to the next track.
example, in less than two-and-a-half-minutes, Hickey (with writing
assistance on this tune from Sally Dworsky) succinctly portrays
the feelings of someone who doesn't want help in the midst of
an emotional crisis on "Breaking": "you want
to fill me up/with the time that was/save me from the fate/that
you're afraid of." Musically, the song is Dylan-inspired
(somewhat akin to "The Times They Are A-Changin'"),
and tweaked a bit to be a couple shades popper. The verses are
short, move quickly to the bridge, the melody rising into the
chorus. Hickey's voice (as it is on both the tracks he produces
and those mentored by Jeff Peters) is way up front, so that
every quaver and nuance is naked and up front.
however, is "Good Vibrations" in comparison to the
minimalist "Soul Asylum". Light percussion, some faint
strings and softly picked guitar rest below a slightly nervous
vocal. Hickey cycles through the initial lyrics, as if he's
trying to cope with the misunderstanding of which he sings.
The effect creates a compelling air of mystery – an effective
Many Pieces" also has a dramatic edge, with a fuller sound.
There's some stinging guitar work and heavy drumming. This might
be the closest that Hickey will come to the passionate desolation
of some of Richard Thompson's work. Meanwhile, "Palisades"
has a very familiar folk structure in the verses. But the magic
is in how he folds in a totally unfolk melody into the bridge,
the juxtaposition making the melody all the more striking. And
the chorus is rousing and uplifting. Dworsky contributes a backing
vocal and gets an even bigger turn on "Kitchen", her
honeyed voice perfectly complimenting Hickey on the track with
perhaps the most expansive melody on the disc.
tracks that typify both the disc and Hickey's particular talents
are the songs that begin and end the album. "Release"
is a plea for personal resolution, with a somewhat morose tinge
to it: "Walk in the graveyard/knowing the past/picking
out plots/moving too fast/might as well give in/I need release".
The song is just Hickey and his guitar, but it rests on a repetitive
basic guitar part that adds to the emotional weight of the tune.
Something needs to be let go, and I don't think he's sure what
it should be.
the closer, "Walking Away", Hickey is in a somewhat
better place. He announces that he is walking away "from
complication." Unlike the title track, which offers no
musical ray of sunshine, this has a middle eight that speaks
volumes about the mindset at work: "I feel good/don't know
how long I can take it/man on the street/is running for the
bus/but I don't think he'll make it." Simple pleasures
are temporal. True happiness is harder to find.
Which is not
nearly as sad as it seems. Hickey is a thinker who is asking
questions and seeking answers that he might never find. His
music is so involving because no matter how bleak it can get,
his empathy and warmth come through on every track. Too often
bluster is mistaken for passion – Hickey's measured
intensity in service of excellent songs is passionate as all
get out, as he uses his head to figure out his heart. This
was well worth the wait.