Micah P Hinson, Islington Academy Bar, London

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The Independent Culture

Micah P Hinson's 22 years have already blazed with a level of incident that would have broken a lesser man.

Micah P Hinson's 22 years have already blazed with a level of incident that would have broken a lesser man. Born into a fundamentalist family in Memphis, he fell out of favour with everyone in his old life quite spectacularly, by falling for the rich rock star paramour he has dubbed the Black Widow.

Forging prescriptions for his dissolute muse led to jail, homelessness, bankruptcy, abandonment by family and friends and, eventually, the songs on his debut LP, Micah P Hinson and the Gospel of Progress. Fleshed out by the titular backing band - which includes members of like-minded Manchester/Texas hybrid The Earlies - the album hangs on Hinson's voice, youthful yet cracked like parchment, faintly reminiscent of a suicidal Jimmy Stewart. His songs, rescued from what he has named the "lost period" that followed the shock of jail, are, predictably, spare and downbeat.

But, as tonight's show emphasises, Hinson is far from another folk faux-hobo. Though clearly not averse to mythologising his early travails, the rare presence of The Gospel of Progress for this headlining tour has relaxed Hinson into relative normality. The eccentric, almost possessed solo performer I've caught before has been replaced by the affable lead singer of a fine rock band.

Wearing a camouflaged hunter's cap and black-rimmed specs, with a soft, pasty, callow face at odds with his wearily experienced music, Hinson seems befuddled at times, biting his lip as he considers his next move. Mostly, though, he seems pleased to be here, in front of a packed foreign crowd hanging on his every word.

That rapt attention may be the night's most remarkable feature, in fact, as bar chatter spontaneously falls silent for almost every song. This is the most profound change the recent resurgence in folk-based acoustic music has caused in rock crowds: a willingness to listen to songs carefully, picking out lyrics. At one point, Hinson's voice drops so low it is almost inaudible, and the audience hush with him.

The irony is that, for the most part, Hinson needs no such reverence, as The Gospel of Progress offer the fire-power to flatten all comers. With an accordion, Hammond organ and cello to hand, "Stand in My Way" becomes Stax-style soul, with waltz-time breaks and a Cajun ambience, Hinson bending almost to the floor as if in worship, as he chops jerkily on his guitar. By the time the epic "The Day Texas Sank to the Bottom of the Ocean" comes round - a song dealing in self-destructively obsessive love - the band's traditionally big, affirmative sound has led to outbreaks of fierce nodding and hand-conducting, the equivalent of air guitar in this crowd.

But it's still Hinson's own intimate, love-lorn murmurs and shrieks they really desire.

Bristol Polish Club (0870 44 44 400) 3 December

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