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splendid > reviews > 2/18/2005
Cantinero
Cantinero
Championship Boxing
Artemis


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "So Low"

Buy me now
Christopher Hickens is the reluctant mind behind Cantinero's music. His reluctance comes from years spent pursuing the rock star dream, only to finally wash his hands of the matter in a state frustration and personal introspection. He even went so far as to study philosophy -- and what he learned in his self-imposed sabbatical from music making appears to have served him well on his return to the dark art. Championship Boxing is a layered but never overly dense collection of artful pop tunes. Hickens's formula puts his music somewhere in the company of current pop crooners such as Jack Johnson or John Mayer, but those comparisons only serve to mark the territory. His brand of melodic pop has a deeper, more mature aspect that may well keep it off of top forty radio -- and that's most likely a good thing.

Championship Boxing opens with a telling taste of this endearing musical mix. "So Low"'s dark lyrics contrast with the floral melody: "I was twisting around when my fable stopped / coming alive I have never felt so low." Rare is the song lyric that works as poetry, but Hickens's lyrics unfold on several levels and rarely suck the teat of easy rhyme. It's not great poetry, but it's some pretty damn good writing.

"That Guy" is another laid-back gem. Opening with an organ-like keyboard riff, it jumps up into a languid (but never slow) rhythm. The song's pace effortlessly matches the lyrical sentiment: "That Guy... he's like a bag in the wind, kind of lets himself in." The way the song is sung makes clear, without any berating, the singer's sentiments "That Guy."

"Jesus Loves You", on the other hand, is something of an anomaly. It starts with an eerie bit of keyboard that sounds as if it came straight out of a horror movie. At first it's unclear if the song is really a paean to the Lord; it seems to be about a conversation between a proselytizer and a non-believer, but before you can really figure that out, it turns into a modern-day Squeeze song on the order of "Black Coffee in Bed". The song creates interest through the immediacy of its lyrics, and through its initially haunting, then jaunty, instrumentation.

If there's a complaint to be leveled at this otherwise outstanding debut, it's that Hickens seldom varies his sonic formula. After six songs, the music's charm and accessibility fades into the duller tones of familiarity. Overall, though, Championship Boxing is compelling stuff -- easy on the ears, but with depth and complexity in layers that grow with each new spin.



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