Hicks - Singer, Songwriter, Fiddler
Reviews of The Perfect Gig
Review from SING OUT!
(The Perfect Gig, Fall 2002, Vol. 46, #3, p. 151)
Founding member of the groundbreaking Red Clay Ramblers, Bill Hicks—more widely known as a fiddler—has come home to his songwriting with a mini-encyclopedia of seventeen originals. These richly illustrated vignettes tap into the camera of Bill’s eyes, mind and heart and provide vivid accounts of real and imagined events and circumstances. Hicks’ unrestrained perceptions and observations are fascinating. The style for the songs is whatever suits the topic, from bluesy to folksy to even a little rockabilly. Most of this outstanding array of material was recorded live at a local bar in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with Bill accompanying himself on understated electric guitar or occasional acoustic; a handful were recorded in studio. Surprisingly, fiddle is completely absent.
“By Half” poetically weaves a brick mason’s craft with mathematics to tell the story of a love that got away; how often does one find bricks in a love songs. “Were They Happy?” contemplates a street bum who, with a razor blade, carves roses from palm fronds for tourists. Hicks reprises his “Play ‘Rocky Top’” from his Ramblers days, delightfully fresh after all these years.
It’s been nearly two decades since Hicks left the Red Clay Ramblers to focus on life as a father, fiddler, husband and stone mason. From the exceptional, thought-provoking lyrics found throughout The Perfect Gig, it is obvious that Bill Hicks is the sum of all the many facets and interests that make him tick; inextricable components that allow him to venture far beyond superficial concepts. Extraordinary. Stephanie P. Ledgin
Review from the Durham Independent
"The Perfect Gig"
(Admit One 1001 CD)
"...the CD does what it is supposed to do--reveal the exceptionally high quality of Hicks' lyrics. As a writer, Hicks has little limitation in vision or subject matter, while revealing a considerable amount of thought, listening and reading. These are erudite lyrics that benefit from, or rather require repeated listening and reading...Hicks stands more than well-grounded in both literature and roots music, marrying real poetry to traditional ballad structures. He finds depth and meaning in events both everyday ("SOB in the Carvel Truck") and imaginary ("Polar Bears on the Moon"). He proves a poet who can reference the Stanley Brothers, Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra movies, David Byrne, long forgotten Chapel Hill bars, Outer Banks landmarks, and signs in a Siler City Laundromat." Art Menius [entire review]
"Kick Me, I'm a Tree!"
That's what Marshall Hay, the guy that brought Jack Kerouac to Chapel Hill, N.C. back in '66, said one night on his way back to his dorm after a few beers at "Harry's Bar and Grill". How did he meet Kerouac? Marshall was hitch hiking. Kerouac was, well, on the road. They met, paths converged. Marshall told Kerouac about the literary scene at Chapel Hill - how his fans would lay their drugs, booze and bodies at his feet, and the self-ravaged poet could not resist the flattery. So Jack Kerouac passed through a few of our lives shortly before he left the earth.
Live in a bar/coffee house in Chapel Hill, about 35 years later, Bill Hicks recalls and invokes this visit in "Wet July" (track 6), in the same way that he ruminates over less significant events - some real, some not - all authentic, in which (if you are good at reading between the lines) you can find little pearls of wisdom. Usually unspoken. Kind of like meditating on that old Zen Koan: "What is the sound of a solid iron flute, played upside down?" Answer: "Beanpaste that smells like beanpaste is no good."
This collection of songs (perhaps poems set to music is more correct) is not a pretty, slick piece of Nashville packaging. It is neither for the faint of heart, nor the weak of will. You have to work hard to pry out those oysters. But each is guaranteed to have a pearl. Not that I've been clever enough to find them all... The upside to this is that you can listen to the songs over and over and over, as you slip into the warm nocturnal Southern breeze blowing through the Spanish Moss of Bill's brain. Or let your feet play in the sandy beaches at Okrakoke, where Bill and his musician-wife Libby spend a lot of time these days. Bill holds steadfastly to many of the ideals we all held so true back when I knew him at Chapel Hill in the sixties, the essence of which, I believe, can be summarized thusly: the journey is what It is all about. The question is the answer. And there are moments of vision in the most unexpected situations, (like "The SOB in the Carvel Truck" that passes him on the right and makes him swerve into the twilight zone) that reveal a glimpse of the truth and beauty of our ephemeral lives, which is always right there under our noses, just out of reach, or maybe not.
There are a few tunes that are just pure fun like "Uncle Charlie's Revenge" and "Play 'Rocky Top'" and others, that you just have to listen to again and again before they make much sense. His "dissertation on bars" ends with "Last Call", which, in my humble opinion, buggers all description. Here is the third verse, without the snakelike guitar accompaniment:
Though Bill is one of my favorite old time fiddlers, no, my favorite (but don't tell that to whomever I'm playing [banjo] with these days), he plays strictly guitar on this album. His rhythm guitar work is quite amazing. Not only does he find the soul of each poem/song, he can cook that stuff up like gumbo. I had to email him to ask him if it was only one guitar. It is. As you approach this album keep in mind, this guy is a philosopher, a poet, and an artist. This is the real Bill Hicks. He has dared to bare his soul. And, I think, it is his honesty and integrity that does not want to make it too easy for the listener."So anyhow one night a drifter came in
"Comparisons are odious", as a quote, is attributed in Bartlett's to Sir John Fortescue, who apparently said it first, back in the 15th century. The important thing is not who said it first, but what it means. In Bill's case it means it would be odious to compare his song/poems to anyone else's writing, Kerouac notwithstanding, because of the unique quality of his art.
[June 10, 2002, Reviewer: Laird Baldwin from New River Valley, Virginia]
The Perfect Gig
Ocracoke Observer, June 2002 (Ocracoke Island, NC 27960)
Ocracoke’s own Bill Hicks is a world-class fiddle player and he’s got a new CD out. As it turns out, “The Perfect Gig” has no fiddling on it, but you’ll want it anyway.
Rather than the traditional old-time fiddle music with which his fans are familiar, Hicks offers a live recording of his own songs, just him and a guitar. Hicks is a stone mason when he’s not gigging around North Carolina, and this album has the touch of a real craftsman. Each song has the touch of a musician who has been at his trade for long years of writing and performing, and his confidence shines through.
But Hicks is also a poet, and it is after these songs become familiar that his lyrics begin to sound deep moments of insight and wisdom, as well as those lessons in life that, unlearned, come home to haunt us. His songs are populated with men on the outside looking in, with the lost love of long years past, and with the wistful notion that a light on the water can make it all right. There’s the old stone mason who lost his love to Xeno’s paradox (Achilles and the tortoise, and the impossibility of motion). There’s the lament of every hunter who’s ever dozed off and missed his shot. And there’s the photograph of a man and woman in old Savannah, GA, frozen in a moment still open to possibility.
Hicks switches from acoustic to electric guitar, but his touch remains light and deft. His playing on both instruments is layered and fluid. Quick finger-picking on a poem set to music (a poem first published in this paper last fall) gives way to the soft electric guitar and energetic vocals. The middle of the set is dominated by the deeply contemplative “Were They Happy” [or just smiling], and a study on the night crossing to Ocracoke on the ferry. The last six of the seventeen tracks rise in energy, centering around the title track, a gigging musician’s heaven on earth.
The range displayed on this album may be a surprise to those who know Bill Hicks only through his fiddle playing (though not to anyone who has been lucky enough to play with him in a kitchen or on the back porch). He says in the liner notes that he had stopped writing songs when he left the Red Clay Ramblers, the Chapel Hill band with which he first made himself known. It is only in the last five years or so that he as returned to the endeavor, and we’re lucky that he has.
Bill Hicks is a co-founder
of the Red Clay Ramblers, a fiddler, songwriter, and stonemason, and a
sometimes resident of Ocracoke, where his wife and musical partner Libby
Hicks creates fused and mosaic glass art. Bill and Libby have a CD
out on the Copper Creek label, “South of Nowhere,” copies of which are
available in several island retaileries along with “The Perfect Gig.”
"Fiddlin'" Bill Hicks, original Red Clay Rambler, sought-after collaborator, and all-around NC musical treasure, plays solo gigs from time to time, and "The Perfect Gig" is just that. Bill's set at The Cave, in Chapel Hill, forms most of this recording, with some songs added in later. He plays guitar (!) throughout, and showcases his always interesting songs, which go off in unexpected directions but always end up where they are supposed to be. Jim Graves, DJ, Free Flight, 91.9 FM WFS, Fayetteville, NC 28301
There is no fiddle on this album, it is rather an album of self-composed good old boy folk…. Two songs stand out by reason of sound. One is "By Half," done in an old Anglo-American ballad style, a song that a bluegrass band might pick up. It's about a love gone wilted because cupid's arrows, according to the laws of mathematics, can only progress by half. The second is "The SOB in the Carvel Truck" and it’s the sound of the words matched with the tune that brings in the ears, something that any songwriter with sense aspires to. The "story" or rather the reflection here is the trade off of security and happiness…. You have to listen for the lyrics in most of the rest of the songs. The better part of Hicks' images are from the Carolinas, from the shore, and as he predicted, they're from the warm, common world, nothing cold and upscale here. There's the Hispanic woman in the Laundromat with the babies, her brother and his pick-up. There's the 4 wheel drive Explorer, De Sotos and Packards. Introspective indeed, but with plenty of colorful, real-life images. Judith Gennett, Green Man Review, July, 2002
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