Though I took a long break in my thirties, I’ve been writing songs since I was in my late teens. My upcoming album with Small Screens, Airport Sparrows, will be released on September 2, 2022. The group is Christopher Thomson, tenor saxophone, clarinet, synthesizer; Michelle Kinney, cello; Zacc Harris, guitars; Charlie Lincoln, bass; Peter Hennig, drums, banjo; and me on vocals, pianos, acoustic guitar, and fleeting synthesizer. The album is something of a departure but not an about-face. It’s a pop album, and I hope it will be memorable melodically, lyrically, and so on, but there’s a bit more room for improvisation on this album than on my others, and the songs, whose lyrics and structures are in some cases less formally traditional than my previous songs, are frequently long. The title track is a ten-minute instrumental “about” birds. For the most part, we learned and collectively arranged the songs in the studio–I mean, I had distributed charts and demos, and we had prepared privately in advance, but the starting arrangements were for the most part flexible, and I loved working out the songs together in this way. Everyone’s a wonderful player and thinker, and all contributed ideas that surprised and delighted me. We allowed some overdubs and corrections, but most everything was tracked “live,” including vocals. Miles Hanson engineered at Creation Audio, except for a things I overdubbed at home, and John Fields mixed. The album is a touch too long for vinyl (but not too long!), but I’ll be issuing a 12″ 45 RPM single, which will include three of the album’s songs. Both a single, then, and an album sampler, and the 12″ 45 format tends to be the ultimate for vinyl fidelity. You can order either format now on Bandcamp.
My previous album, Accidental Birds, was recorded between November of 2020 and February of ’21, partly at home an in remote sessions, partly in two short, masked sessions at a conventional studio. About half the songs were written during the recording period, either at the piano or by shuttling between piano and laptop. The others were written earlier in 2020, and one, “Devil Blush,” is a revision of a song originally intended for the musical that gave rise to 2020’s Munson-Hicks Party Supplies. The new album was performed in strict alphabetical order by Jake Baldwin, JT Bates, Liz Draper, Kevin Gastonguay, Zacc Harris, Peter Hennig, [Dylan Hicks], Michelle Kinney, Adam Levy, Charlie Lincoln, John Munson, Christopher Thomson, Janey Winterbauer, and Jeremy Ylvisaker. I’m happy with it! To put it vaguely, I think it includes good examples of my three or four veins, with a few variations, and my first use of programmed elements since the late ’90s. The album was too long to press on a single LP, and I couldn’t justify making a short, expensive double, so this is one that will have be enjoyed or otherwise heard on CD and the streaming sites.
The aforementioned Munson-Hicks Party Supplies album is a set of my songs mostly and beautifully sung by John Munson. The album’s core quartet has John and me on bass and piano respectively, guitarist Zacc Harris, and drummer Richard Medek. We’re joined by enough guests to field a softball team, including the singers Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor. The Bandcamp page lists the full credits, as does the LP and the very limited edition CD. The album, inspired by far-flung collaborations between interpretive singers and less spotlit writers, has been issued once again by the criminal and underfunded Soft Launch Records. Three of the album’s songs originated in various drafts of Princess Pam, an unproduced musical in which the heir to the British throne flees the palace, goes incognito, and forms a rock band in Minneapolis. I doubt these origins will be apparent.
My fifth album, Ad Out, was produced by John, recorded by Steve Kaul and John, mixed by Jason Orris, and mastered by Greg Reierson. Jacob Allers-Hatlie did the art and hand-lettering, and Karl Raschke designed the LP and CD packages. The band is me on vocals, piano, and few bars of guitar; John on bass, vocals, and assorted instruments; Adam Levy on guitar; and Richard Medek on drums. It also features (in alphabetical order) Ken Chastain, Terry Eason, Matthew Hanzelka, Sten Johnson, Doug Little, Dean Magraw, Joe Savage, Brian Tighe, and Janey Winterbauer. It’s good! I hope it will be available from a variety of retailers, but perhaps the easiest way to buy it will be through Bandcamp. The album will be available a on long-playing vinyl, CD, and as a digital download, and all the albums from this century are available on the standard streaming sites.
Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene, released in 2012, was a companion to my novel. You can stream or buy the CD or LP on Bandcamp, or buy it at select Twin Cities stores. And the novel comes with a free download code, so you could get the music that way. The album’s brief notes to some extent try to proceed as if Bolling were a nonfictional country singer, though not to the point of giving him songwriting credit in the fine print, which isn’t really that fine. Despite the album’s title, only five of the album’s songs are, to my mind, covers of songs by this secondary character in my novel, and even these are somewhat free interpretations, with a few anachronisms and perhaps two or three lines that Greene wouldn’t have entertained or tolerated. The remaining songs derive from the novel’s narrative in other ways, or borrow some of its phrases, images, or themes.
I keep insisting that Bolling Greene is fictional, but the brilliant Jon Hunt found one of his old LPs at an estate sale (cover shown below, right).
My earlier recordings are for the most part out of print, though you can buy digital versions of some of them on various sites, and the CDs seem to show up used with some frequency, at prices that smile on the bargain hunter.
It’s psychologically convenient to think one is constantly improving and producing one’s best work, which of course is often not the case, but I do think the songs I’ve been writing in midlife are by and large more distinctive than the ones I wrote in youth or relative youth, and I probably sing more reliably in tune these days and play better. That said, I did get to play with some outstanding musicians and friends in my twenties, and there are some highlights on the earlier albums. I was a bit more of a rock ‘n’ roller then and was willing at times to scream. My first album, Won, was recorded with Golf Ball-Sized Boogie: Terry Eason, John Guion, and Mark Herr, and several guests. My favorites on that one are “Police State,” “Governor of Fun,” and “Hal Blaine.” Poughkeepsie (original title: Midwestern Singer-Songwriter Buys Sampler) was recorded with that band and with other players in various professional and home studios over a longer period. A lot of people worked on the engineering and production aspects, including Andy Bryant, Jason Heinrichs, Jason Orris, Bryan Hanna, and me. People who know the earlier albums seem to like that one best; it wasn’t a great period for me personally, and my memory of the album is to some extent colored by that. I still play “$100 Bill” and a few other Poughkeepsie songs and sometimes get requests for ones I’ve forgotten. Someday I’ll relearn them! By the time of Alive with Pleasure, I was writing mostly on piano and moving closer to the stuff I’ve done lately, but also hanging it up for a while to go back to school and try some other things. It contains “City Lights,” which was somewhere called a “regional hit,” a stretcher but nice to hear.
My jocular and somewhat punky forty-fives and cassettes were mainly recorded with Dylan Hicks + 3 Pesos, which in its longest-lived configuration was Al Lehman on guitar, Steve Parker on bass, Pat O’Brien on drums, and me on vocals and rhythm guitar. Terry Eason played guitar for the earliest gigs and on the first cassette. I was unpolished, but we were a pretty fun band. Vision Web, funny in spots, was made on my own in a weekend (a caveat, not a boast).
Here’s s a partial discography, poorly researched:
- 2023, “The Weather on Your Side” 12″ single (precise release date unknown due to delays in vinyl production), will contain three songs from Airport Sparrows (Soft Launch Records)
- 2022, Airport Sparrows (to be released in September), CD, digital (Soft Launch Records)
- 2021, Accidental Birds, CD and download (Soft Launch Records)
- 2020, Munson-Hicks Party Supplies (with Munson-Hicks Party Supplies), LP, CD, and download (Soft Launch Records)
- 2017, Ad Out, LP, CD, and download (Soft Launch Records)
- 2012, Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene, CD, LP, and download (Two Deuces)
- 2001, Alive with Pleasure, CD (No Alternative Records)
- 1998, Poughkeepsie, CD (No Alternative Records)
- 1997 (?), Vision Web (as dylan davis), cassette (self-released)
- 1996, Won, CD (No Alternative Records)
- 1994 (?), “Time Capsule,” forty-five RPM single (Prospective Records)
- 1992 (?), “Chump Remover,” forty-five RPM single EP (Prospective Records)
- 1990, The New Dylan, cassette (self-released)