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Cantinero - Better for the Metaphor

Better for the Metaphor


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A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

This CD is pop in nature but really best shows that Christopher Hicken—a.k.a. Cantinero—may very well have a brilliant future ahead of him as a crafter of ditties, jingles, and musical ephemera alongside his skillfully sculpted chart hopefuls. Each song is an exercise in ultra-incisiveness, from the lyrics (which, as biting social commentary, are far more insightful and witty than 90% of the pop realm's), to the carefully constructed motifs and progressions, to the incredible engineering job, which is as clear, crisp, and precise as an Ansel Adams photograph.

There's a good deal of the best side of Joe Jackson in Cantinero, a very NYC vibe pervading his oeuvre but also the hipped-up brightside jazz inflection that marked Jackson's prime materials. Even ballads such as Sometimes have a Jacksony tang alongside a touch of Eric Carmen and hi-toned MOR. On the other hand, his vocal arrangements sometimes dip into CSNY / Hollies territory nor is he timid about throwing in whatever will propel melody and atmosphere, and it's this last trait I suspect someone in an ad agency is going to tumble to, understanding the guy has a laser-honed knack for comprehensivising artistic and cultural artifacts. Hey, if Barry Manilow can become rich and famous off those dumb-ass jingles of his, then this guy has him beat by parsecs. One listen tells all. Go ahead, pick any track, and see if I'm not spot-on.

Then, of course, there's his voice, a perfect Top 40 vehicle—strong, clear, agile, and beguiling. Particularly clever are Cantinero's lifts from famous melodies. Goodbye Life, for instance, uses The Surrey with the Fringe on Top (from Oklahoma) as a hook, and My House immediately summons CSNY's "Our house is a very very fine house" refrain even while not exactly reduplicating it. In real life, Hicken's an educated fellow and one of the few who are familiar with Edward Bernays' work, among many subjects—writing for the Huffington Post as he does (and someone needs to warn him about and its idiot chief, faux Leftie Rob Kall, lest he stumble in there one day as well), and has applied more than a few principals…for art, not social indoctrination, thank God.

Hicken's work has impressed top sessioneers, and here he's nabbed sidemen and women who've worked with some of the the best: Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Space Hog, Britney Spears, and so on, a roster spiffing up the buff and polish on every cut. The engineering alone would win awards if it were in the running somewhere, and his tendency to keep building rhythms is infectious, putting a gyroscopic hipshake in the more complex motifs. In all, then, Better for the Metaphor is a rather surprising release and could esily stand as a texbook for hell of a lot of the competition.

Track List:

  • My House
  • Go Getter
  • Safe
  • Goodbye Life
  • Medicated
  • Selfish
  • Sometimes
  • Lights Went Out
  • Thinner
  • Long Way Home
  • Stay in Bed
All songs written by C.L. Hicken.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2008, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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