Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Oct. 27, 2006
The Song He Was Listening to When He Died (Freedom)
When speaking of underappreciated singer-songwriters in Austin, Michael Hall is near the top of the list. It might be his offbeat way of telling stories, his decidedly bent sense of humor, or the dryness of his vocal delivery. The Song He Was Listening to When He Died, his eighth since disbanding the Wild Seeds, isn't likely to change anyone's opinion of the local rock veteran, even though it's unmistakably different from anything in his past. Produced by Jud Newcomb and George Reiff, who also play guitar and bass respectively, it melds analog drum machines to pure pop melodies while injecting vibes, trumpet, piano, and various percussion and studio tricks in unexpected places. The result is an album full of dichotomies, with the acoustic sweetness of "Out Where the Highways Roll" offset by the jagged edges of "Captain, Captain" and the shimmering hook of "Summer" in contrast to the pure absurdity of "America" (not the country, the group). While the overall change isn't subtle, the playful undercurrent to Hall's songs remains, and it's heartening to hear he's willing to experiment, letting his muse take his music wherever it might lead.