Review from Maverick Magazine, May 6, 2010
ABSENCE OF BLAME
4-1/2 out of 5 Stars
ABSENCE OF BLAME is practically faultless. Whatever, let’s blame Sara!
Hickman’s thirteen song, thirteenth adult recording, delivers six songs written on her own alongside five co-writes. Her (five) collaborators all possess Texas credentials, rather appropriate since, appointed by the State Commission on the Arts, Sara is the 2010-11 State Musician. Bar one song, Sara’s latest album was recorded and produced by Mark Addison at his Austin, Texas studio The Aerie-that song being the bittersweet Suitcase which she wrote with Dan Workman. The simple, mainly voice and acoustic guitar rendition was recorded at Dan’s SugarHill Studios in Houston. In addition to helming the project, Addison plays a plethora of instruments. Scrappy Jud Newcomb (the Highwayman/Loose Diamonds/the Resentments) delivers big (occasionally fuzzy) electric guitar power. Chords, drumbeats and percussion arrive care of Dony Wynn, while wind instruments are handled by Mike Agentis.
Album opener I’m So Glad You Came Along expresses gratitude to the person who: ‘built this house of glory’ while later on, supported by a sympathetic string arrangement, the ballad Before You Change Your Mind, co-written with Addison, simply shines. A couple of songs were co-written with Rachel Loy, an Austin-bred musician and Berklee College of Music graduate now residing in Nashville. Their Size Six Dress focuses on a young woman driven to extreme measures-cosmetic surgery-in order to satisfy that facile human vanity labelled fashion. Supported on backing vocal by her oldest daughter Lili, the justifiably vitriolic lyric cleverly embraces uncertainty: ‘Less is more, less is happiness I guess’ and then adds: ‘Are you happy, now there’s half of me, Love is more than a size six dress.’ Previously released as a single, Hickman’s narrator embraces social commentary-regarding autism-in the lyrically desperate State Of Emergency.
Located in the Concho County, Central Texas town of Eden is a for-profit prison operated by the Corrections Corporation of America. At the outset of the sonically muscular Edentown Sara mentions the facility before shifting her focus to a blue-collar couple living on the edge-‘Eve had six children, and Adam was a drunk, He led them deeper into debt, He wiped each kiss with a punch’ You will probably have figured, Adam ends up incarcerated in Edentown. At the outset of the lyrically sly 99% Sara sounds suitably seductive-‘Let me take you home and I’ll give you ninety-nine per cent’.
ABSENCE OF BLAME includes a couple of covers. Juliet & Juliet, a gospel tinged tale of forbidden love penned by Marvin Etzioni (Lone Justice, Grey DeLisle), is performed as a duet with Ginger Doss, and the album closes with Grace Pettis’ hymn Love Is There. The principal gem among many in this package is without a doubt the (ten-year-old!) love and loss focused Blown Away. In the mid-section Sara’s voice simply soars skyward on this lyrically inspirational number. Frankly, she has never sounded better.
– Arthur Wood, Maverick Magazine UK