Though chiefly the axeslinger for long-running alt-country outfit Cracket, Johnny Hickman always managed to sneak a few worthy tunes onto that band’s albums, from the twisted and silly “Superfan” to the gutwrenching “Another Song About The Rain”, and finally stepped out on his own for 2005’s solo trad rock bow Palmhenge, an album notable for predicting the economic collapse three years before it happened on “The Great Decline” (and if you squint, maybe Julian Assange on “Hacker Boy”). For his second solo turn Tilting, Hickman still sings to truth and stays in his comfortable No Depression singer/songwriter mode, but he trades in the (inadvertent?) soothsaying for introspection with a dozen confident, unhurried, honest tunes.
The mellow six-plus minute “Destiny Misspent” examines exactly that; call it a more regretful “Glory Days” (and even cites deceased Sparklehorse frontman and Hickman buddy Mark Linkous as an example), while “Whittled Down” takes a resigned look at the toll life on the road in a band exacts, one “whittled down by the blade in your hand”. Meanwhile, the plainspoken “Dream Along With Me” and gospel-tinged “Drunkard’s Epiphany” veer, to these ears, a little too far into navel gazing, but those moments are offset by the 1%-bashing opener “Measure of a Man” (“You wash your hands of all the common people at the end of another working day”), the Randy Newman-esque 21st-century America indictment “Not Enough” (“We know our god can beat up everyone”), the “Fox On The Run”-nicking “Sick Cynthia Thing” and some dependably solid barroom rock on “Resurrection Train” and “Another Road”. Tilting feels like a nice companion piece to two other albums made by middle-aged rock ‘n’ roll dudes this year, who examined the world and their place in it: Chuck Prophet’s San Francisco love letter Temple Beautiful and Todd Snider’s Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables. Long may they run.