Chris Hicken / Cantinero Continues To Succeed After Release of “Better For The Metaphon”

An immediate contender for the hearts of discerning, literate indie music fans around the world, British born, New York based alt-pop singer/songwriter Chris Hicken—better known to his growing legion of fans as “Cantinero”—entered the highly competitive fray in 2004 with Championship Boxing, his critically acclaimed Artemis/V2 Records debut whose title was a not so subtle metaphor for the successful battle for his creative sanity after years of ups and downs in the music industry.

Combining live instrumentation and subtle electronic textures, the lyrically provocative, melodically infectious date earned British music bible Q’s praise as “a winning fusion of strummed acoustics and brawny ballads” with “deliciously poignant lyrics.” The album hit the Top 40 on Amazon.com, was featured on National Public Radio’s “All Songs Considered” and earned Cantinero an 11 minute special on NPR’s Weekend Edition, which drew an audience of over eight million. PBS is currently using seven of his songs for its hit TV series “Roadtrip Nation, which has also featured the music of Sufjan Stevens, Of Montreal and Jack Johnson. Hicken also recently worked with the Blue Man Group and he was the only outside artist opening for Steve Earle on his recent tour.

Taking the gloves off once again, Hicken goes completely DIY on Better For The Metaphor, a witty and incisive, lovingly crafted pop affair on his own Tinkle Tone Recording that displays the multi-talented composer and performer’s talents for keenly observed insights as he cleverly chronicles the complicated world around him. Expanding on some of the topics he covers in his occasional editorials for The Huffington Post, Better for the Metaphor offers socially and politically incisive takes on such provocative themes as the American sense of entitlement (“Go Getter”), the manufactured culture of fear (“Safe”), and the dangers of trumpeting one’s rigid ideology (“My House”).

Sticking to the coolly melodramatic, instantly hummable three to four minute slice of life pop songs that have become his trademark, Hicken also serves up a 50s style duet on the ambivalence of the Universe (“Goodbye Life”) and even a sing-songy ditty about using anti-depressants to make the pain of life go away (“Medicated”). The artist goes deep and textured with his food for thought, but the tracks go down easy thanks to his prodigious gift for melody, which he considers something of a birthright for British singer-songwriters.

“I have an incredible sweet tooth for melody,” he says. “So I decided to embrace it, to make the tunes poppy and catchy and accessible – I hate heavy-handed. So when I first started concentrating on the subtext of Better For The Metaphor, I aimed for three to four minute catchy pop tunes anyone can hum instantly but whose lyrics cut a lot deeper than they would first appear to. I enjoy the challenge of being very straightforward musically while keeping things a little more abstract lyrically.”

To get in the right frame of mind, Hicken moved to a rural, secluded cabin environment in the Catskill Mountains that was worlds away from the urban setting of the East Village where he recorded Championship Boxing. Producing the album himself, he layers his expressive, soulful tenor atop a rich blend of acoustic and Spanish guitars, piano, strings, bassoon, and random snatches of sound he’s been collecting since he began to write in September of 2005. He says, “It was like being in a sweat lodge. The songs just came pouring out of me, and the isolation enabled me to focus in a way that I’d never been able to before.” He recorded the album over a 12-month period with a wealth of studio and touring musicians who had previously worked with everyone from Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder to James Brown, Britney Spears and Space Hog.

Before launching his solo career, the Birmingham, England native arrived in America in 1993 with the alt rock band Bigmouth. After years playing with them, he took a self-imposed, burnout driven sabbatical from music and worked as a bartender. At one of the establishments he worked, a Spanish co-worker caught on to Hicken’s musical leaning and began calling him “Cantinero.” Another friend, who happened to be co-owner of Artemis Records, heard some songs and urged him to give music another shot.

“I think what brought me back into music was realizing that pop music can be a lot more thoughtful and educated than what we are hearing on the mainstream charts,” he says. “I finally had the opportunity to make what I call educated pop music, writing songs that allowed me to dig in and clarify the thoughts I had been having and communicating them through the magic of the three to four minute pop song. Doing an album is very hard work, but it’s worth it when I’ve expressed everything I have inside me and listeners connect with the songs.”

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