John Hickman – That’s Life
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, you could say that John Hickman has always been immersed in creativity in some way, shape or form. Emerging out of the heartland, where some of the most poignant and important pieces of the American songbook have been crafted and given unto us, he spent most of his adult life working as an aerospace engineer developing sophisticated technology that most of us wouldn’t even have a clue how to operate, let alone forge for ourselves. Now that he’s retired, you would think that the last thing he would want to do would be to start a new career. But anyone who knows what it’s like to have that burning, creative passion that inspires us to pick up a paintbrush, strum a guitar or mold an epic sculpture will tell you; it’s just not that simple. You can’t “turn off” being creative. The flame never stops burning. Now retired from the aviation industry and living in the tropical comforts of Hawaii, Hickman is devoting all of himself to his second passion in life: music. Having spent an entire life cultivating the material that he’s releasing now, you can imagine how refined the finished product would be, fantasize about the quality of its textures and romanticize the amount of wisdom and skill that Hickman brings to the table beyond anything that the casual music listener would find to be reasonable, and still, I don’t really think you would be doing him justice.
I was astonished – honestly astonished – by what I heard on John Hickman’s first release, 2016’s full-length Remnants. Not only is he making far more compelling music than many of his contemporaries – three quarters of whom are half of his age – but he’s employing a far more forward-thinking, progressive approach than any of the retro-loving, self-absorbed hipster indie crowd is doing now or even considering doing in the near future. Remnants was a bit of a game changer for me, and I was expecting quite a lot out of his subsequent work. The latest release from Hickman, a single entitled “That’s Life” which came out just this past June 8th, satisfies a lot of my concerns about whether or not Remnants was a one-off hit for this intriguing singer/songwriter. If anything, it’s made me quite eager to hear his next complete album (whenever it drops).
Unlike a lot of other songs focusing on social commentary, “That’s Life” lacks any of the patronizing themes that make even some of the more provocative and captivating protest songs feel a little inaccessible to listeners and critics both. We’ve got Hickman and his voice, which seems to generate most of the heat in all of his songs, and we’ve got a simple yet incredibly well synchronized band that backs him up instead of competing for the spotlight. What else do you really need? What I love about “That’s Life” and all of this performer’s work is that it’s straight up, clean cut rock that doesn’t come with any frills or unnecessary gestures that come off as self-indulgent. It would be nice if other artists followed his lead.