Micah P. Hinson - All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers

Hinson doesn’t present any tired retreads of these mostly familiar songs, instead imbuing them with enough of his own character and style to make them sound new again.

Tackling a random cover by such familiar artists as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and the Beatles is quite a difficult undertaking, with the challenge being to somehow make these instantly recognizable songs your own in an authentic manner while still honoring the original in some way. Releasing an entire album filled with these covers is an enterprise simply fraught with peril, since there isn’t any original material of their own available for the artist to anchor themselves to, challenging them instead to somehow allow their own voice to shine through amidst the standards they are covering. And that is the prodigious obstacle that Micah P. Hinson has placed in front of himself on his lovely collection of 24 cover songs featured on the appropriately named ‘All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers’. Split up into two volumes (originally intended to be released as two separate albums), the first half featuring sparse, acoustic based covers, while the second half focuses on more electric based, rollicking renditions of the classics.

The acoustic side of the album starts with one of the more modern songs found on the album, Hinson’s tender cover of the Pedro The Lion track ‘Slow And Steady.’ It’s mournful and heartfelt, and brings an added forlorn honesty to the track. Next up is an affectionate take on John Denver’s ‘This Old Guitar,’ which features Hinson’s voice cracking under the emotional weight of the delicate song. ‘Kiss Me Mother, Kiss Your Darling,’ by Letta C. Lord and George F. Root, is a bouncy song despite the weariness of the subject in the song. One of the longer covers featured on this collection is the five-minute take on ‘Not Forever Now’ by Centro-Matic, and the song gradually builds to a haunting peak that is as stirring as anything on this record. Perhaps the last thing the world needs is another cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A Changin’, but Hinson imbues his version with a modern intensity and passion that shows that Dylan’s lyrics are indeed as applicable today as they were when they were written. And Hinson’s voice cracks a few times during this take, and rather than cleaning that up, he leaves the imperfections in place, only adding to the dramatics of the song.

Leonard Cohen’s wistful ‘Suzanne’ is next, and Hinson does a credible job filling the song with his own emotional intensity, and taking the pensive, desperate song in a fresh new direction. Hinson turns to another modern artist on Emmy The Great’s forlorn ‘We Almost Had A Baby,’ giving the song a considerably different perspective by switching the subject of the song from a woman to a man, adding an intriguing, contrasting narrative to the doleful track. Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way,’ like Dylan’s ‘Times’ has been covered ad nauseam, but Hinson again is able to breathe some new life into the classic, again keeping his fractured warble in the mix, adding to the stubborn despair of the song. It’s a risk to sparsely cover this song when you don’t have the velvety voice of Old Blue Eyes, but this whole album is a bit of a risk for Hinson, and he again accepts the challenge and delivers a stirring, spare version of a song no one really wanted to hear another version of to begin with.

The ‘electric’ volume of the album begins with the instrumental ‘Sleepwalk’ by Santo and Johnny, easing the listener into the second half of the record with its passionate, Prom-Dance guitar sound. Roy Orbison’s ‘Runnin’ Scared’ is up next, and features driving drums and piano pounding away in unison, as well as a melancholy violin that only adds to the depth of the despondent track. Hinson has some fun with Patsy Cline’s boisterous ‘Stop The World,’ chugging the song forward with his impassioned vocals, while also playing around with backwards recording during the production on the middle part of the track. It gives a modern feel to an old standard, and succeeds in bringing the sentiment of this song into the present day. Elvis Presley’s ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ is the only truly downtempo rendition featured on the second half, guided along by a somber piano line that is restrained like Hinson’s vocals on this gloomy number. But Hinson immediately ratchets up the volume to ten on his blistering, feedback laced version of Leadbelly’s ‘In The Pines’ that is an intense, searing rendition of the song Nirvana once made famous.

‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’ by the Lovin’ Spoonful bounces along nicely, with the full band bringing a bit of discord to the stomping, propulsive classic. One of the clear-cut highlights of this album must be Hinson’s ferocious take on Buddy Holly’s ‘Listen To Me,’ with the guitars wailing and Hinson’s raspy vocals roaring the demanding vocals. It’s an eruption of sound, especially coming right after the rather lighthearted Lovin’ Spoonful number, and burns out quickly after just two minutes. The Beatles ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ closes out the album, and Hinson distorts his vocals almost to a distracting level on the Harrison penned masterpiece. And while the listener will appreciate the chances Hinson takes on his version, they don’t all work unfortunately, and the song is a bit of a muddled mess, and represents one of the only missteps he took on the entire album. Hinson continually manages to inject a good part of himself into these covers, and that personalization is what ultimately allows the album to be successful. Hinson doesn’t present any tired retreads of these mostly familiar songs, instead imbuing them with enough of his own character and style to make them sound new again.

Tags: Micah P Hinson, Reviews, Album Reviews

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