By Eleni P. Austin
The Desert finally has its first authentic “super-group” with The Hick-Ups. The idea sprang from the wily mind of Desert Rock progenitor, Zach Huskey.
Zach has always been a protean talent. Along with Mario Lalli, Herb Lineau and Sean Wheeler, he helped create the desert music scene back in the ‘80s. All four musicians paid their desert-dues before migrating to Los Angeles and Orange County.
By the late ‘80s, Zach fronted moderately successful L.A. bands like My Pain and Long, Dead & Gone. Inevitably, “artistic differences” and the punishing “pay to play” climate ended both bands.
Zach and his girlfriend, (now wife), Erica Faber, briefly relocated to South Orange County and re-connected with Sean Wheeler. Zach and Sean were both between bands, so along with Erica and a drummer they formed the Hick-Ups. The music was a rough and tumble blend of Punk, Country and Rockabilly.
Before the Hick-Ups really got off the ground, Zach and Erica returned to the desert and began Dali’s Llama. Meanwhile Sean launched Throw Rag, and has since created Sean & Zander with legendary multi-instrumentalist, Zander Schloss.
After a myriad of Dali’s Llama albums, plus his Primordial Blues band and assorted solo projects, Zach had a hankering to rekindle the Hick-Ups flame.
Luckily no one else had co-opted the name, so he assembled a line-up of Desert Rock all-stars. Zach on vocals and guitar, Robin Clewell (Phenobarbidols, Dali’s Llama, Rawbone) on vocals, Craig Brown (Rawbone, Dali’s Llama, Long Duk Dong) on drums, Brenden Borger (Distant Lights) on bass and Joe Dillon (Indignation, Hot Beat Pussy Fiend) on acoustic guitar, slide and lap steel.
Thus, the Hick-Ups were born again. Their debut, Ten Miles From Hell, has just been released. The album gets off to a rollicking start with “Take Me Back.” A Psychobilly rave-up, the track actually dates back to the original Hick-Ups line up.
The band hits the Hee-Haw hard on both “Dunebilly M.F.” and “White Trash Queen.” The melody of the former shares some musical DNA with “Greased Lightning” from “Grease,” (sorry Zach). That doesn’t make it any less badass.
The latter weds tilt-a-whirl guitars, walking bass lines and a hiccup rhythm. Robin channels her inner-Wanda Jackson and her outer-Honey Boo Boo, bringing to life a complex and mis-understood family matriarch.
The best tracks here are a piquant mix of slashing guitars and twangy vocals. Over a breakneck beat and menacing riffs, “Old And In Your Face” is a smart-ass antidote to the venerated Bluegrass/Deadhead ramble “Old And In The Way.”
If Ed Wood ever wrote a song about S&M werewolves, it might sound like “Ten Miles From Hell.” Whip-crack riffs collide with a loping backbeat. As the lupine lovers make plans for date night, (“tie me up inside your room”), Zach unspools a corrosive solo. Hopefully, these two have a “safe” word.
“No Mas!” is a banjo-rific hootenanny (although no banjos were harmed in the making of this record). The cheerful sing-a-long mood softens lyrics that sketch an alcoholic’s rapid descent.
Finally, “Changing Trains” offers a clickity-clack metaphor for mid-life rebellion as a God-fearing square embraces a life of sin. “I’m gonna smoke, I’m gonna drink/I’m gonna cuss and I’m gonna fuck.”
Four songs, “I’ve Been Around,” “A Glass Eye,” “Leave Me Honey,” and “Everything Dies Alone” are less Cow and more Punk. “…Around” is sepulchral Southern Goth featuring grinding, grungy guitars. Meanwhile, “A Glass Eye” is super sludgey.
“Leave Me Honey” offers a scabrous case study in marital ennui. Zach handles lead vocals here as Robin provides a howly counterpoint. On “Everything Dies Alone” bludgeoning riffs connect with a roiling rhythm, straight out of the Dali’s Llama playbook.
Other interesting tracks include the dour murder ballad, “John The Damned,” and the raucous kiss-off, “Dead To Me.” The album closes with the mostly instrumental “Sirens Of The Sands.”
Ten Miles From Hell has been described as Cow Punk, and that may have been the band’s original intent. However, Zach Huskey has never been accused of coloring inside the lines.
The Hick-Ups offer up a veritable combo-platter of musical genres. Gird your loins, as they take you on a Hillbilly hayride to hell.