Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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JOHNNY HICKMAN
Palmhenge
Campstove

Alt-rock sidekick goes solo so he can express his deeper feelings

In 1992, Johnny Hickman rescued David Lowery from artsy irony by abetting his escape from Camper Van Beethoven. But as Lowery's co-writer and -leader in Cracker, Hickman found Lowery's snarkiness contagious. So on this solo debut he stages his own escape, into what singer-songwriting is for. Felt and straightforward as Cracker never was, Palmhenge has a glum outlook--the title imagines California as a lost civilization, evoked by the first two tracks from an in-my-room and then a sociohistorical perspective--and rolls out too many Cracker-style big-rock licks and beats. But it sounds compassionate when it says it's compassionate, it sounds loving when it says it's loving, and it sounds cynical when it says it's cynical. And that's such a relief.

Blender, Sept. 2005