As with Bon Iver's yarn of backwoods isolation, the first story we heard of Micah P. Hinson is the one that stuck. With Hinson, it was trouble with the law, after abandonment by an aristocratic femme fatale and fellow drug addict. But as tonight unfolds, this boyish 29-year-old Texan reveals that trouble is a life-long affliction.
Wearing spectacles that make him resemble Elvis Costello in a safari suit, the loathing the latter projected turns inwards for Hinson. "The car broke down at the bar, honey, and I'm so sorry" goes a song he's just written, "Stuck on the Job". I can't work out if he's apologising to a lover, a woman who died in a crash, or a sex doll. But the laconic sorrow proves an unbroken thread. Reminiscing about a childhood friend, he reveals he put "a bullet in his face, poor guy", provoking a riotous song of abuse, played on an acoustic guitar, clanging with aggression. "You couldn't make this up," he admits of a sometime band-mate from Manchester who's also a private eye, trailing his abducted daughter.
Hinson's new albums of cover versions (All Dressed Up and Smelling of Strangers, Vol. 1 and 2) are autobiography by other means, because he was saved by music. David Bazan's "Slow and Steady Wins the Race" is a hopeful dream of faith. On Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" he looks like he's taking an awkward sideways bite out of his guitar, grasping quickly, as if with gnarled hands, at short phrases of a great song he pulls apart to freshly inspect. He swings that guitar like Woody Guthrie's fascist-killing machine on Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'". It's sung with weary sensitivity, and prophetic fury redoubled because, as he states: "Nothing's changed". "Not Forever Now", by his prolific Texan contemporary Will Johnson of Centro-Matic, beats closer to his heart, detailing inescapable suicidal impulses. His face seems to inflate then suck itself in, as he jumps inside the song.
There is cracked sweetness to Hinson's voice at times, too, and a restorative, rustic quality to his playing. He inspects the marriage ring he's worn for 18 months, and decides, "My life has changed." Then he revives "The Day Texas Sank to the Bottom of the Sea" from his 2004 debut, in gratitude at how his music, and people listening, has helped.