It’s been 20 years since the release of Cracker’s self-titled album, but despite the band’s longevity, multiple gold records, worldwide tours, accolades for their nine studio albums and ever-growing fanbase, the band’s two creative fountainheads – Johnny Hickman & David Lowery – aren’t entertaining any nostalgic trips down memory lane this year with career spanning best-of collections or reissues.
Instead, before the band regroups in the studio for their next Cracker effort in 2013, Hickman will be releasing his long-awaited sophomore solo album, Tilting, on July 3rd through his own label imprint Campstove Records.
Hickman has long been known for both his guitar prowess and deft songwriting skills, with many songs leaning heavily towards the Americana/alt-country side of the fence – both in Cracker and on his 2005 solo debut, Palmhenge, which received positive accolades from the likes of revered music critic Robert Christgau, No Depression, AllMusic, Village Voice and many others. But on Tilting his musical boundaries are broader than ever before. While there are still traces of Americana present (“Measure Of A Man,” “Destiny Misspent,” “Whittled Down” and the bluesy “Resurrection Train”), there are also strains of smoky Dust Bowl-era jazz (“Papa Johnny’s Arms”) and gutsy rockers (“Takin’ Me Back” and “Another Road,” the latter which also incorporates a sweet and sublime refrain throughout). Perhaps most surprising, however, is the heavy presence of some incredibly hook-laden pop. Not only are some of these tracks reminiscent of Lennon & McCartney in their prime (“Dream Along With Me,” the political satire of “Not Enough” and “Sick Cynthia Thing,” the latter which also surges with an uplifting mid-’70s glam swagger), but even the earthy folk of “Drunkard’s Epiphany” is elevated from a state of melancholy into something much more hopeful with its sunny harmonies and keen pop sensibilities.
As Hickman explains, “Personally, all my favorite records and bands have been those that don’t flatline into one tiny sub-genre (Beatles, Kinks, Radiohead, Petty, Neil Young…). When I write, I just do it and don’t worry about it. As David [Lowery] and I always say, the only real rule in music is ‘don’t suck.'”
The album’s title Tilting is tied to one of Hickman’s favorite countries, Spain, and it refers to Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote. “I sometimes feel like the impassioned madman with his lance trying to slay the windmill monsters,” Johnny reveals. “I think a lot of people do in these troubled times. The idea of battling these mighty, unbeatable foes both real and imagined is disturbing yet darkly amusing to me.”
“The songs on Tilting are definitely more personal, more autobiographical than on either Palmhenge or Cracker records. I didn’t set out to do that but it’s just where I am in life I suppose. I didn’t steer cautiously around any of my feelings or experiences, good or bad. It’s as honest as hell, I can tell you that. Lyrically, there’s a little mid-life crisis catharsis going on here, not that that’s a bad thing. That and just being pissed off and reveling in it. I also love collaborating, which I do with David as well as my long time friend Chris LeRoy. Two of the twelve songs on Tilting were written by or with Chris, though the majority of these songs are directly from my head and heart.”
“Musically, my young friend and ace producer Jason Larson and I bonded a lot over how amazing The Beatles’ mid-period stuff is, even though he wasn’t even born yet when those albums came out. That came through almost subconsciously in the songs. The two of us played most of the instruments and sang most of the backing vocals on Tilting. I would get behind the board while he played drums, then we’d switch while I sang, played bass or guitar. I wrote a few of these songs on piano instead of guitar, but soon fired myself as piano player because Jason plays it much better than I can. At times we would call up our very talented musician friends to come in and play too, but mostly it was the two man band – laughing and running back and forth until we dropped at 3 AM. Then we’d get together the next morning, listen and see what we had. A kind of crazy way to make a record, but it worked.”
Johnny Hickman’s new solo album Tilting will be available in CD and Digital formats on July 3rd.
FEEL FREE TO DOWNLOAD & SHARE JOHNNY’S NEW SONG “MEASURE OF A MAN” FROM TILTING:
01 Measure of a Man
02 Destiny Misspent
03 Not Enough
04 Dream Along With Me
05 Sick Cynthia Thing
06 Whittled Down
07 Our Little Movie
08 Papa Johnny’s Arms
09 Takin’ Me Back
10 Resurrection Train
11 Drunkard’s Epiphany
12 Another Road
Johnny will be performing various solo shows in 2012 in support of Tilting (to be announced soon), and will be hitting the road with Cracker for a high-profile summer tour as part of Barenaked Ladies’ “Last Summer on Earth” tour, also featuring Blues Traveler and Big Head Todd & The Monsters. For tour dates go to: http://www.crackersoul.com/fr_home.cfm
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Tony Bonyata / Pavement PR