On their new Copper Creek CD South of Nowhere, Bill and Libby Hicks find some delightful places among the wealth of styles available to Americana musicians. Besides the traditional fiddle tunes and ballads that form the bedrock of old-time music, with which they are so closely associated, the Hickses venture into songwriting with a handful of strong original songs as well as giving us blues, gospel and covers from Son Volt, the Blue Sky Boys, and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. Thus, Libby's lead vocals and Bill's blues fiddle turn Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues" into a torch song, then drive through Tommy Jarrell's arrangements of "Sugar Hill" and "Sally Ann" with the same intensity and joy popularized by the Freight Hoppers.
Together since 1982, Bill and Libby Hicks maintain residences both in rural Chatham County and Ocracoke, an island becoming increasingly rich with musicians. Bill boasts one of the state's most impressive musical resumes: He was the fiddler for Durham's seminal Fuzzy Mountain String Band and a founder of its successor, the Red Clay Ramblers. Here, he demonstrates the remarkable flexibility of his fiddling. Bill can power a robust dance tune, then easily switch to an evocative, softly melodic violin part to accompany his own story songs such as "The Island Rockers." Libby, who provides solid guitar and a some piano, spent eight years as half of a "brother duet" with the acclaimed Lightnin' Wells.
Inspired by Marge Simpson, Libby says she successfully nagged Bill into resuming his composing. His four songs make South of Nowhere extraordinary rather than merely well conceived. On "Anasazi Premonition" and "Turn Out the Lights," Bill's songwriting compares, most favorably, with the RCA Victor recordings of the late John Hartford and the classic work of Kris Kristofferson, respectively. His own vocals, rough and world weary, prove utterly convincing, with Libby's lighter and more precise voice providing a perfect foil. Like its cover, South of Nowhere proves to be a fascinating musical mosaic: rich in depth, feeling and variety, running the gamut from traditional dance music to serious singer-songwriter material.