Blue State Boy opens with a “Song for Bob”; Dylan that is. Dylan’s influence is felt throughout the album: several songs—especially the closing track, “Winds of Change”—would not sound out of place on Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde. Not only does Hinely share Dylan’s lyrical prowess, the two men are similarly outspoken on the state of the nation.
As the album title suggests, Blue State Boy is something of a political record. The title track is about being a liberal in a red state, and all this entails. Now, Hinely isn’t exactly mining new lyrical ground, but he is incredibly clever in his retreading, and not in that ostentatious, ironic way so many modern songwriters have toward socially conscious subject material.
“Dear Mrs. Boxer” is a “Stacy’s Mom”-esque love letter directed toward that fine piece of sexagenarian, senatorial tail herself. Here, Hinely sings Barbara Boxer’s praises while expressing his desire to engage her in intellectual conversation and ply her with Jello shots, complete with a chorus of infectious “la la las.” How could a Congresswoman resist? Really, there are not enough love songs directed toward politicians, but “Dear Mrs. Boxer” is good enough to make up for this tragic dearth in the American songbook. On “Shattered Glass”, Hinely plays the glass harmonica, better known as that annoying thing your date does with the rim of his water glass at the Sizzler. But Hinely manages to make it sound strangely beautiful and perfectly at home; it’s nothing like the novelty instrument many perceive it to be. The song is no doubt influenced by his older brother Terry, a self-taught glasses player, who was killed in 1997.
Hinely is a master of the awkward love song: “Cecilia’s Kitchen” takes a page from Robert Johnson’s “Come On in My Kitchen”, using the tried and true domesticity/sex/food double (or perhaps triple) entendre. Or maybe Hinely is in fact extremely literal and is singing about actual buttered biscuits being served up with love, but it’s doubtful, not to mention, boring. “Half as Cool as Nick Lowe” is a love song for the tongue-tied, sweet in its graceless sincerity. Luckily, Hinely doesn’t need to be half as cool as Lowe, John Prine, or any of the other songwriting masters he cites; he does a damn good job all by his lonesome. After this brief interlude, Blue State Boy returns to the political: “Amerigo Vespucci” is one of the cleverest songs out there about the current state of America; Hinely manages to do more in 108 punk-influenced seconds than most can do in whole albums. Here, the deceased explorer decides he wants to take back his name from the country that bears it, for “it used to stand for something” that “got lost along the way”.
Whatever your political beliefs, there’s something on Blue State Boy for you. And with Hinely’s myriad musical influences and genre-spanning, if you can’t find at least one song you like on this record, there might just be something wrong with you. Donal Hinely is certainly a rising star in the Americana music scene, so keep an eye out for him; one can only hope that the best is yet to come.