Album Review: Micah P. Hinson – Presents The Holy Strangers (Full Time Hobby)

Gothic opera

Having Listened to this fabulously dark tale of gothic Americana it’s no surprise to discover that Micah P. Hinson grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household. The track titles alone indicate a deep inculcation into that world, the opener The Temptation says it all but turns out to be an instrumental of which there are several on Hinson’s 10th album. It’s a beauty though, a large soundscape is filled with quiet rumblings created by a variety of instruments and effects including keyboards and a fair amount of benevolent distortion. On top of this Hinson lays down a slow tune in shiny guitar notes that build the atmosphere to the point where you wonder why he hasn’t scored a movie for David Lynch yet – there’s still time.

Micah P. Hinson had a troubled youth, he was a drug addict, jailbird and bankrupt before the age of 20 but he managed to turn these problems into fuel for his songwriting and by the time he was 23 he had released his first album with backing from John Mark Lapham’s The Earlies.

Hinson calls Presents The Holy Strangers a “modern folk opera” which tells the story of a war time family from birth to death with the full gamut of emotional travails in between. He follows the likes of the Decemberists and a few others in this regard but this album is not a straight forward tale, it seems more like a reflection of his own family background thanks to the presence of a track that is more of a sermon than a song. Micah Book One consists of his spoken words over a quiet but tonally rich background built up with lap steel, organ, drum and bass, it’s the words that pin you to your seat. It’s positively old Testament in its tales of Zionists destroying the holy temple and this being the time when the only popular prophet is the one who promises “plenty of wine and beer”. At seven minutes it’s the longest and most powerful track on the album, but there are plenty of tuneful if down tempo songs alongside it, he channels Hank Williams meets Lambchop to a tee on Lover’s Lane, which combines a simple folk tune with acoustic and electric guitar to good effect.

No small part of this hour long, 14 track album is its sound, Hinson used reel to reel tapes, analogue keyboards and old mixing desks to create a rich, deep sound that on the instrumental tracks is particularly beguiling. Apparently everything was done in analogue up to the ‘pre-mastering’ stage and it shows, not least in the voice which is full of timbre, subtlety and depth. The instrumental The Memorial Day Massacre combines a creaky fiddle and a simple drum beat to produce a sound like an old machine over which beautifully distorted sounds are laid. The War sounds like he used an amplified metronome for the basic beat, adding piano and lots of reverb before bringing in more instruments in a slowly unfolding soundscape.

Presents The Holy Strangers is a remarkable album, undoubtedly the best that Hinson has produced and IMHO one of the best of the year. If he’s playing near you on his UK and European tour this Autumn I suggest you go listen.

– Jason Kennedy

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