If Three Six Mafia sang about how it’s hard out there for a pimp, Texas singer/songwriter Micah P Hinson might as well sing about how it’s hard out there for a political conservative in the music world, right? Indeed, if you’re not Ted Nugent, admitting right-leaning political beliefs in any kind of arts field is akin to risking career suicide.
To top it all off, Hinson almost literally died in a car crash in 2011. With so much contextual background noise (some of it brought about by himself), how does a talent like Hinson release any more music and avoid distraction? Apparently, by making some impressive musical noise.
That is, as much as Micah P Hinson And The Nothing is a personal record for the latter biographical reason, it stands out among even 2010’s great Micah P Hinson And The Pioneer Saboteurs for its refined instrumental craft, something that’s all the more impressive considering that Hinson could not use his arms during the album’s recording (as a result of his injuries sustained from the crash).
From the outset, listeners are treated to timeless, amazing interplay between guitars, drums, and bass. Opener How Are You Just a Dream? combines the slinkiness of surf rock with the speed and urgency of punk, all while featuring Hinson’s trademark shaky Southern vocal delivery. Second track On The Way Home (To Abilene) carries just the opposite mood: Hinson croons over slide guitar, banjo, and a simple, but gorgeous piano melody.
Meanwhile, the theremin-featuring The Same Old Shit is the record’s most traditionally country pop song, three chords, the truth and all. “Is It gonna be the same old shit day after day and after day?” asks Hinson. It’s a question that everybody, from Bill Murray to one’s parents, has asked to nobody in particular at one point, and Hinson’s Old Weird America country tune nails the associated feelings of melancholia and ennui.
That the album is so impressively varied is not to say that it doesn’t sport the occasional dud. For instance, the minimal The One To Save You Now, featuring a restrained drum beat and soft, but staccato piano, just seems like knock-off Bill Callahan but with less thoughtful lyrics. Mostly, however, even the album’s sparse tracks feature instrumentation that works well in context of the song’s subject matter, which is most notable on I Ain’t Movin’.
Not only is I Ain’t Movin’ the most autobiographical song on the album, referencing not only Hinson’s physically but emotionally debilitating state during the recording of the record, but it’s also the most moving (no pun intended). Reverb-laden piano and strings make up the soundtrack to Hinson’s main declaration: “You can push me all you dare but I ain’t moving.” The song sees Hinson taking his limitations and somehow finding the inner strength to find a sense of personal empowerment.
Overall, it’s a fruitless exercise separating the music from the lyrics here. Sure, while music and lyrics should always be analyzed in context, Hinson is no Callahan, let alone Bob Dylan. His songs’ lyrics don’t make for great poetry when one simply reads them. Instead, Hinson’s tales work in context of the music that soundtracks them. And in this case, his tales of being temporarily crippled are strengthened by its tone-perfect instrumental base.
This album may not instantly add more entries to the great canon of pop music that tackles the subject of its creator’s injuries. To place it on the same pedestal as, say, Kanye West’s Through The Wire would be ludicrous. But perhaps in a number of years, one will look back at Hinson’s catalogue and see Micah P Hinson And The Nothing as a turning point, one that gave his music a refined purpose. Even if it is the same old shit day after day and after day, it’s great to be alive.