Sara Hickman's last concert at Poor David's Pub didn't have quite the air of a homecoming. Despite an inspired introduction in faux-Latin by club owner David Carr, the audience showed absolutely no enthusiasm, and that lack of energy in the crowd was reflected right back from the stage.
Hickman tried to make a go of it; joking about how it felt like she was playing in a library and trying to make a connection with some short stories. Still nothing. Midway through the set, a gaggle of giggling girls who clearly were not there for the show tramped into the bar. The disturbance annoyed the audience, but Hickman, now with an obvious obstacle to overcome, finally mustered enough energy to make it clear whom the crowd should be paying attention to.
"It was driving me crazy that it was so quiet. Even coffee house shows can get a little rambunctious--at least the ones that I sing at--so that was very odd," recalls Hickman. "When people are still because they're uncomfortable, it makes me uncomfortable. I mean, you could leave the show and get hit by a bus. So, come on, let's get this party together while we can."
Hickman admits to thriving on challenges; perhaps that's why her new album is intentionally the most ambitious one of her career. The former Dallasite, settled into a busy, loving family life in Austin, is doing much better then a decade ago when she was struggling to get out of major-label obligations. Seemingly in a bid to balance out that domestic tranquility, Hickman threw down the personal gauntlet of creating a double-disc collection (one disc upbeat and one contemplative) with an emphasis on what it means to be a mother. Oh, and the cover is supposed to have a topless woman in a dominant sexual pose straight out of the Kama Sutra.
"I wanted to have one CD talk about how euphoric and uplifting and joyous being a mom and a musician are to me with this kind of tension underneath it," Hickman says. "I am happy, and I love my life, and I love my family, but the flip side is that I'm constantly balancing this universal sorrow. I mean, I help with the homeless community, and that seems endless. I help with the Romanian children, and that seems endless...I could look at it all as negative, but I don't want to. For me these two CDs are just more of the complexity of who I am."
The intentionally bipolar result, Motherlode, lives up to all of Hickman's lofty goals. (Well, almost--the album's distributor required censoring the cover woman's breasts.) The happy side is a gloriously manic and disjointed romp. From the comically countrified "Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?" to the full gospel choir send-up of the children's song "Your Reward," Hickman exercises her immense vocal ability, soaring at one moment and drawling out her syllables at the next. The darker side has Hickman's slow cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" and sly take on the Rolling Stones' "Mother's Little Helper" alongside the heartening "Comfort's Sigh." Exploring the album's multiple layers and moods reveals the immense undertaking it was to craft, but for Hickman, it's just another difficult mission accomplished.
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