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Hits and misses in local music

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Almost inextricably linked with the fiddle upon completing his seven-year run as fiddler for the Red Clay Ramblers in 1981, Bill Hicks, if anything, then concentrated even more on his fiddling, rather than singing or composing. Over the past two decades he has performed with various ensembles, including the David Childers Band, as a solo act, and with his wife, Libby. Despite his prolific songwriting during the past five years, he remains identified as a fiddler. But on his latest release The Perfect Gig, Hicks chooses boldly to eschew the fiddle altogether, instead performing 17 of his compositions solo, accompanying himself on acoustic and electric guitar.The Perfect Gig documents an imperfect gig in late 2001 at The Cave in Chapel Hill. Despite far from perfect sound, the CD does what it is supposed to do--reveal the exceptionally high quality of Hicks' lyrics. As a writer, Hicks has little limitation in vision or subject matter, while revealing a considerable amount of thought, listening and reading. These are erudite lyrics that benefit from, or rather require repeated listening and reading. Even without his fiddle and on new material, he remains a link to the Chapel Hill of the 1960s ("Wet July" mentions the time he helped push Jack Kerouac's car out of a ditch) and 1970s, to a time where music, art, literature, politics and "philosophical drunks" all seemed part of a terribly important patchwork quilt.

Like the lyricists of those days, Hicks stands more than well-grounded in both literature and roots music, marrying real poetry to traditional ballad structures. He finds depth and meaning in events both everyday ("SOB in the Carvel Truck") and imaginary ("Polar Bears on the Moon"). He proves a poet who can reference the Stanley Brothers, Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra movies, David Byrne, long forgotten Chapel Hill bars, Outer Banks landmarks, and signs in a Siler City Laundromat.

While most of these gems and near-gems came to Hicks since he resumed writing seriously in 1997, he also reprises "Play 'Rocky Top,'" about a drunk who thinks the Osborne Brothers' hit makes him irresistible to women, from the Red Clay Ramblers' 1979 Chuckin' the Fizz. A much different arrangement of "Uncle Charlie's Revenge" appeared last year on Bill & Libby Hicks' outstanding South of Nowhere. The Perfect Gig is all about the songs. Despite the consistently remarkable lyrics, at times it can be difficult digesting 17 consecutive guitar and vocal solo numbers at generally medium to slow tempos.

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