Talk to British singer and composer Chris Hicken long enough and you might hear him make reference to a Charles Darwin exhibit he’s seen in New York, recommend a documentary about Freud’s grandson Edward Bernays, or recall a conversation he’s had with his wife about the late Republican political strategist Lee Atwater. So it’s not surprising that his thoughtful, informed reflections find their way into the songs on his new album, Better for the Metaphor — a literate, lovingly crafted pop affair that displays Hicken’s talent for keenly observed insights about the complicated times in which we live.

Better for the Metaphor offers a perceptive take on the American sense of entitlement (“Go Getter”), the manufactured culture of fear (“Safe”), the dangers of trumpeting one’s ideology (“My House”), a 50s style duet on the ambivalence of the Universe (Goodbye Life), and even a sing-songy ditty about using anti-depressants to make it all go away (“Medicated”). It’s food for thought, but it goes down easy thanks to Hicken’s prodigious gift for melody (practically a birthright for a British singer-songwriter). “I have an incredible sweet tooth for melody,” he says. “So I decided to embrace it, to make the tunes poppy and catchy and accessible – I hate heavy-handed.”

To do it, Hicken, who produced the album himself, layers his expressive, soulful tenor atop a rich blend of acoustic and Spanish guitars, piano, strings, bassoon, and random snatches of sound he’s been collecting since he began to write the album in September of 2005, where he relocated from Manhattan to a secluded log cabin in the Catskill Mountains. Hicken says. “It was like being in a sweat lodge; it just came pouring out of me, the isolation enabled me to focus in a way that I’d never been able to before.” He recorded the album over a 12-month period with the help of a host of top musicians, whose previous employers had included: Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Lambchop, Britney Spears and Space Hog.

That rural environment is a far cry from the urban setting of the East Village where Hicken recorded his debut album, Championship Boxing *, released by Artemis/V2 Records in 2004. A combination of live instrumentation and subtle electronic textures that Britain’s music bible Q magazine called “a winning fusion of strummed acoustics and brawny ballads” with “deliciously poignant lyrics”.

Prior to his solo career, the native of Birmingham, England, arrived in America in 1993 with the Alternative-Rock group Bigmouth. When the group dissolved, Hicken spent seven years working as a bartender (hence the moniker “Cantinero,” a nickname bestowed on him by a Spanish co-worker) before deciding to give music another try at the urging of a friend, who also happened to be a co-owner of premier indie label Artemis Records.

PBS is using seven of Cantinero’s songs for its hit TV show “Roadtrip Nation” (which has also featured Sufjan Stevens, Of Montreal and Jack Johnson.) This season airs in the US and Australia in October 2008. Hicken has recently worked with the Blue Man group and become a regular contributor for the Huffington Post . . His impressive live shows led to his being the only outside artist opening for Steve Earl on his recent tour.


* “Championship Boxing”:
Top 40 on Amazon.com
• 11 minute special on NPR’s Weekend Edition (audience of over 8 million)
• Featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered
• Video for the single “Make Me An Offer” received multiple spins on MTVs Subterranean.



Selfish




Alternative Pop Rock
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tom lee

9/25/2008 7:01:29 PM
hey chris. hi to you (a brum) from me (a manc) all the best.


 

       

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