Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Dylan Hicks

  • Sings Bolling Greene [Two Deuces, 2012] A-
  • Ad Out [Soft Launch, 2017] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Sings Bolling Greene [Two Deuces, 2012]
This is complicated. Minneapolis critic and singer-songwriter Hicks recently published a debut novel called Boarded Windows, about which you can believe Dana Spiotta ("eloquent and unusual") and Greil Marcus ("whispered, confided, mused") or you can believe me ("buncha bohos wax clever about art until you want to paste someone"). Its seventh most important character is a country-singing aesthete of implausible renown named Bolling Greene. But these aren't simply Hicks's renditions of Greene's previously nonexistent songs. They're also songs about goings on in the novel itself to which Greene couldn't have been privy as well as a leftover about a golf course that, as Greene's widow complains in the notes, it's impossible to imagine the vaguely delineated cult hero writing. I love the first four and like all 10, because the same fine distinctions that make my teeth hurt at 252 pages are piquant at a hooky half hour of rhymes I can ignore at will. If you crave concrete detail in your songwriting, here's your fix, from "West Texas wind/Blowing headlines in my lap/Lonely Man Takes Nap/Chubby Girl Learns Tap" to "The musty olive carpet/The sticky minibar/The grainy baby movie/The broken VCR." A-

Ad Out [Soft Launch, 2017]
Singer-songwriters don't get more logocentric than the mild-mannered novelist-critic who dubbed his 1990 debut New Dylan. And though Dylanesque is not Hicks's way, I bet the guy he was named after is broad-minded enough to envy the observed likes of "Hear the the snaps of your jeans banging in the drier" and "Time it flies like Superman / Or gets stuck like celery strands." Vocally he's too smart to be wimpy, and a shifting band anchored by his cocktail piano accommodates horn section and pedal steel as needed. Hicks isn't above cleverness like "I just wanna be the Monkees to your Beatles / Wanna be the heat lamp to your sun" or "Persephone and Dante were down there / Bon Scott I guess was en route," and why should he be? But his deepest couplet is "You were interesting to me / Interesting to me," and his deepest song hard to penetrate: "Ambulance," where a feeble parent or disabled child or someone else altogether may be scared of the siren, in deep need of the help it promises, both, or neither. A-