Lava Magazine review of “Absence of Blame”


By Rob Patterson

If there is a heaven and when/if I get there, the welcoming voice I expect I’ll hear is a woman singing. I may be a wham-bam rock’n’roll lad at heart, but it’s still cool girls with eloquent and emotive songs that get the muscle in my chest fluttering.

Sara Hickman
Absence of Blame
Sleeveless Records

She coulda been a serious contender, and bubbled just under that when she emerged back in the 1990s. And would have made a fine female singer-songwriter pop-rock champ if things had broken differently.

After all, Hickman had and still boasts the goods galore: an ample, agile, dynamic voice that has all the charm and sincerity of your best gal pal and a gift for writing songs built on a rock-solid compositional foundation with alluring hooks and smart twists and turns. Now flying under the national radar after going from major to indie labels to becoming her own cottage industry out of Austin, Texas, she’s made an important and masterful mature musical and lyrical statement that merits far greater exposure than it’s likely to receive in today’s crowded and hinky CD market. Shame, really….

Absence of Blame offers an arresting siren’s call in both meanings of the word. On the one hand, there’s stirring and fervent numbers like the swirling storm of “State of Emergency,” the chugging and punching “Edentown” and the chiming trotter “Last of a Dying Breed” that respectively address such meaningful and pressing issues as the crises and anxiety of modern human existence, poverty and family abuse and the demise of integrity with poetic grace and muscle that are free from the awkward cant and rhetoric that infects most social commentary in song.

Then there’s the simmering flirty lilt of “99%” and a warm, grateful hug on the slinky “I’m So Glad (You Came Along)” that brim with romantic allure. And she also flips the coin of love to make heartache painfully tangible within the electric flicker of “Broken” and captures lonely melancholy with muted painterly tonality on “Before You Change Your Mind.” Plus gilds this collection with its crown jewels of “Last Man in the Water” (which brings a sweet angelic smile to a tale of tragic heroism) and the uplifting choral closer “Love Is There” (penned by Grace Pettis).

Producer Mark Addison strikes a piquant balance between rich musical classicism and imaginative modernism with sturdy yet sparkling arrangements that are note and rhythm perfect in a powerful yin/yang dynamic. And the final irony of this stunning album that laments a better world while giving glimpses of what it could be is that in just that sort of state, Absence of Blame would be widely heard and celebrated as the significant, touching and healing work that Hickman’s early promise always foretold.

Lava Magazine

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