Canadian Country Spotlight: Tim Hicks

Tim Hicks has carved out a nice niche for himself as a barn raising country rocker with seemingly endless energy and charisma. Born out of St. Catharines Ontario, Hicks has risen to prominence in Canada rather quickly. He started off his career with back-to-back gold certified singles with rocker “Get By” and “Hell Raisin’ Good Time,” along with another gold song in “Stronger Beer,” which wasn’t even released as a single. His “Got a Feeling” was also used on Hockey Night in Canada during the Stanley Cup Playoffs (major Canadian cred there). His sophomore album, 5:01, debuted at #1 on the Canadian country albums chart, and he recently won the Rising Star award at the CCMA’s. He’s rising rapidly fast, don’t be surprised to see him overtake Dean Brody as the face of Canadian country in the near future. Here are five of Hicks’ finest recordings.

“Stronger Beer” (from Throw Down)

The aforementioned “Stronger Beer” is a charming little Canada versus America song that obviously resonated well with fans, because as I mentioned above, it was certified gold without an official radio release. The lyrics are clever, comparing the two countries using things like rock stars (Bryan Adams vs. Bruce Springsteen), tiny, round, chocolate candy preference (Smarties vs. M&M’s), slang (‘eh’ vs. ‘y’all’) and football leagues (Canadian Football League vs. National Football League). He also utilizes American stereotypes like “you think all our money looks pretend” and “you make fun us ’cause we spell color with a ‘U’.” Hicks completely sells it with his borderline goofy performance and charisma. Complete with a barroom sing-a-long in the background, “Stronger Beer” is all you could ask for and more from a novelty tune. I knew this gentle ribbing of Canada vs America would come to song version one day, but I didn’t know it would be this well executed.

“Ready to Say Goodnight” (from 5:01)

By far the best song off the 2014 release 5:01 and one of the best songs recorded all year, “Ready to Say Goodnight” is a heartfelt, vulnerable effort that showcases a side of Tim Hicks that we hadn’t seen before. The narrator is ready to leave, presumably to pursue musical endeavors, but can’t bring himself to leave his significant other lying in bed alone (it’s comparable to Jason Aldean’s outstanding “Keep the Girl”.) Madeline Merlo’s beautiful harmonies and lead vocals on the second verse give the song an added dimension of realism, one that already felt genuine in the first place. One other thing I found lyrically, is that the reptition really works here. Often times it doesn’t (take Darius Rucker’s new single “Homegrown Honey” for example) but it works masterfully here. In addition, the arrangement is gorgeous and uncluttered, the melody perfectly conveys the anxiety of both characters, and the vocals sound great as per usual with Hicks and Merlo. Doesn’t get much better than this.

“Just Like You” (from 5:01)

The second single from 5:01, “Just Like You”, is built around a theme that has been a pretty common practice these days in country music. The narrator has recently broken up with this girl, and every time he goes out he sees her and it messes him up. Three recent examples of this topic being put to use are Luke Bryan’s “Buzzkill”, American Young’s “Wasn’t Gonna Drink Tonight” and Sam Hunt’s “Break Up in a Small Town”. That’s some pretty fine company, but what makes “Just Like You” stand out is the fact that it could just as easily be mistaken as a mid-tempo love song. “Just Like You” is laced with light guitars, charming banjo riffs, and backed by an equally charming vocal from Hicks. It’s a well executed pop-country offering from Tim, good stuff.

“You Know You’re Home” (from 5:01)

“You Know You’re Home” may come across as another run of the mill country pride song posing as nostalgia at first glance, but when you dig deeper you realize that it’s laced with heartfelt details that add a level of authenticity that few songs of the same vein are able to convey. Hicks delivers the song with the earnestness of someone who’s returning home for the first time, and actually feels connected to the things like the beat up exit sign and the swimming hole, as opposed to many who use such details to help convince people that they are bad ass country folk. It’s a fantastic execution of well used topic.

“She Don’t Drink Whiskey Anymore” (from 5:01)

When I first saw the title for this song I thought it would be a top notch story song where Hicks is telling the story of a heartbroken woman. Turns out, I was wrong, and I’m very pleased about it. See, “She Don’t Drink Whiskey Anymore” has the male narrator being heartbroken, not necessarily about the breakup, but the fact that his ex doesn’t even miss him anymore, thus why she doesn’t drink whiskey anymore. It’s one of the most creative title hooks in recent memory, and perfectly emits the feeling of heartbreak. Vocally Hicks sounds like a more polished Jason Isbell here, and not only that, he tells the story like Isbell would (that’s a good thing, a very, very good thing.) “She Don’t Drink Whiskey” is a fantastic, memorable and creative song. Thumbs up Tim!

Stay tuned for an interview with Tim, coming soon!