Release (2003) is available on iTunes and cdbaby

Tracks: Release, Kitchen, Wolf's Footprint, Friday Morn', Unprotected, Palisdades, Breaking, So Many Pieces, Wheel, Soul Asylum, Walking Away

This 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.

Contributing musicians: Sally Dworsky, Andy Kamman, Al Wolovitch, Andy Stoller, Mark Shark, Patrick Warren, Greg Herzenach, Jeff Peters, and David Jackson.

KITCHEN VIDEO with Sally Dworsky:

REVIEWS OF RELEASE:

Top 20 Recordings of 2003 - Mike Bennett: January, 2004 - fufkin.com

Chris 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 and reassuring.

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Chris 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 MAGAZINE

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On "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

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If 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 route.

I 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.

His 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.

I 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.

For 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.

"Breaking", 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 ambiguity.

"So 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.

The 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.

On 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.

- Mike Bennett / fufkin.com


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