Sara Hickman's Newest: Little Voice, Big Sound

Kirtland Records KR-77
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If you think that women with small voices can’t make big records, check out the latest from Sara Hickman, who is certainly the best news to come out of Texas lately. Shine is true to its title, songs that uplift, outrage, and bring joy, but nothing that just lies on the plate. This is a work of maturity in which Hickman showcases how she frames a song. She knows when to go girly and when to add a whiskey-soaked rasp to her voice, and she delights in using fragile vocals to front muscular instrumentation. Her love of contrasts extends to moods as well. On tracks such as “Cocky Friend” and “Primitive Stuff” she wears attitude like a rodeo queen strutting around in hand-tooled boots, yet on songs the likes of “Human Wish” and “Rapture” she exudes all the tender fragility she assumes when she’s doing her children’s songs gigs. Add splashes of girl-group- meets-New Wave, some rockabilly, and some truly offbeat folk, and it adds up to ten fabulous tracks.  Rob Weir  

This one is hot off the presses and there aren't even YouTube clips yet, but you can order it from http://sarahickman.com/music/


A-Rod and AIG: American Greed Stories

 What do Alex Rodriguez and A.I.G. have in common? More than you think

Today on adult “Sesame Street,” privileged, greedy piggies that start with A. The cases in point are Alex Rodriguez and AIG.  At first glance, there’s not much to connect a baseball player and an insurance company, but allow me to suggest that both are examples of how unregulated capitalism turns the American Dream into the American Nightmare.

Let’s start with the fact that A-Rod is Major League Baseball’s highest-paid player, and that AIG was once the world’s most valuable insurance company. That would be enough for most folks but, alas, it goes against the grain of a culture that all too often emphasizes maximizing value beyond the bounds of what reasonable people would call ‘enough.’ Alex Rodriguez was once heralded as the most talented player in baseball, skills that earned him a contract that yielded $30 million per year for suiting up for a game boys play for free. Not a bad deal, by any means. A-Rod was gifted with a body and skills that fantasy players would have sold their souls to possess. He was on track to become baseball’s all-time homerun leader and a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Then he lost his edge and, for a time, was considered merely as among the top five players in the game.

Who among us would not wish to be in the top five of the pursuit of our passion? Alas, American culture places little value on being other than number one. Remember the Olympic swimmer who wept with disappointment because she only won a silver medal? Name the player who finished third last year in the Most Valuable Player voting for any American sport.  So when Rodriguez slipped from the top, A-Rod became A-Roid and he sought illegal supplements to give him back his edge. In so doing, he will be suspended for his role in the Biogenesis Clinic scan. He very well may have damaged his health permanently by pumping poisons into his body. A-Rod now has little chance of catching Babe Ruth (#3) on the all-time homerun list, and virtually none of surpassing Hank Aaron (#2) or Barry Bonds (#1). He may not even get the chance to hit 14 more to pass #4 Willie Mays. There’s a pretty good possibility that, once the farcical dust has settled, the Yankees will void his contract and that A-Rod will be banned from Major League Baseball. So long Cooperstown.

Alex Rodriguez was vain; AIG was/is arrogant. It’s currently suing the government to recover untold billions it claimed it lost during the period of time the government controlled 80% of its stock. Talk about ingrates! AIG took $182.3 billion of taxpayer money when it was near collapse in 2008 and now has the audacity to moan that stockholders were shortchanged of potential dividends during a period of time in which they could have wiped their rear ends with their stock certificates if Uncle Sam hadn’t saved their heinies.

American International Group was in the insurance business, but it used over $440 billion in credit default swaps to insure securities mostly tied to the mortgage market. In essence, it used the value of its insurance portfolios to buy mortgage securities that turned out to be overpriced. It also dabbled in hedge funds, derivatives, and other high-flyer games. In other words, AIG played the Stock Market with funny money—on-paper assets based on wishful projections of the future. Mind, it did all of this while it was already under investigation for questionable practices in the field of what was putatively its number one product: insurance. And it did so at a time in which it was a multinational company doing business in over 130 nations and had a workforce of around 118,000. Its total assets were valued at over $1 trillion. Don’t you think that would be enough?

I guess it wasn’t enough merely to dominate the insurance industry. Maybe AIG executives couldn’t countenance the fact that there were actually 17 richer companies in the world. I can’t think of what else would prompt them, including Hank Greenburg who was forced out in 2008 and is now championing the lawsuit against the government, to gamble in the Stock Market like a Vegas drunk holding at 15 who just doubled down a blackjack bet with his last hundred. In 2013, AIG is still a big firm: 63,000 employees in over a hundred nations, though its current capitalization value is a paltry $57.5 billion.

Like A-Rod, AIG is busy blaming others for its woes. We can only hope that both A-Rod and AIG go away. If there’s one thing we no longer believe, it’s that any star or company is too big to fail. Let them perish, and don’t expect a lot of mourners to line the graveside. Write the epitaph: “Choked to Death on Self-Fed Greed.”  As for we survivors, it’s time to change the culture. Salary caps and a restoration of business regulations would be a good place to start. The wisdom to quit while we’re ahead would be even better.


Step Casey's Luminous Debut

Whisper and Holler
Self Produced 001
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Step Casey is a Wellington, New Zealand-based singer/songwriter, though one quickly hears that her muses have spent considerable time across the pond in the United States.  Among the influences she cites–and which you’ll hear on her debut record–are Gillian Welch, The Be Good Tanyas, and Lucinda Williams. Voice-wise, her dulcet tones resemble those of Joy Williams of The Civil Wars, another inspiration. That said, her career path more resembles that of Mary Gauthier in that not many folks decide to hit the road as a folk/country/pop singer in their late thirties. (Gauthier was 38, Casey 39. Gauthier latter chucked her life as a restaurateur, Casey hers as a graphic designer.)

If there’s any advantage to a later-in-life music career, it’s that you’ve outlived both wide-eyed optimism and close-minded cynicism. Casey offers a mix of emotions and themes. She opens with “Nice to Know You,” a sticks-in-your-head song that highlights the infectious catch in her voice. It’s also the first of three songs of loss, the second of which, “My Lovely Letterbox,” is a duet with veteran New York City hard rocker Gary Sunshine. She teams with him again on “A Love to Die For,” though it is her voice that’s the effulgent contrast to Sunshine’s gravely tones. As that song’s title suggests, there is plenty of upbeat material to balance the sorrowful. One of my favorites is “Thievery,” a no-punches-pulled song of longing. Another is “Heavy Warm Heart,” an off-kilter little number heavy on the first beats, in which Casey lets her light voice bounce off and between picked acoustic guitar notes whilst viola and cello add sonorous depth. Add some splashes of soul (the Hammond-enhanced “No Love”) and a carefree beach song about one of my favorite places, “Kapiti,” and it all adds up to later-in-life promise. Nitpickers would be correct to say that Casey could be more emotive if she dialed back the vocal ornaments a tad and trusted her material more. I suppose–but this is a solid debut, no matter how long it took to arrive.--Rob Weir