South of Nowhere - The Reviews
Sing Out! The collection of songs and tunes on South of Nowhere offer not only marvelously tight and fiery old-time fiddle workouts such as "Dog Passed a Ryestraw" from the playing of John Summers of Indiana and the medley of "Sugar Hill/Sally Anne" from the playing of Toast, North Carolina's Tommy Jarrell, but also some wonderful original tunes from Bill's pen. "Uncle Charlie's Revenge" is a retelling in verse of a tale told to Bill by Tommy Jarrell about his Uncle Charlie. The centerpiece of the recording, "Anasazi Premonition," features Bill's poetic description of the travels to enlightenment we all take in life. This is a song that becomes the more meaningful and beautiful with each listen. There are even more treasures on South of Nowhere: The Bollick Brothers "Beautiful" sung in wonderful two part harmony and Libby's nod to the playing of Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy on "It Hurts Me Too." The greatest surprise (and a secret weapon in the Hicks family arsenal) is their daughter Anna, who sings back-up with her Mom and offers strong lead vocal on Son Volt's "Tear Stained Eye," a curious addition at first glance but a song that works so very well with the rest of the collection. This is Bill and Libby's first recording together, and it portrays a life of devotion and love. It's a collection of songs and tunes drawing from their past musical connections as well as a wonderful preview of what the future holds. Just one wish, lets not take eighteen years for the next one, guys, ok? ...Tom Druckenmiller, Oct. 2001 

Old Time Herald Bill’s fiddle style begins with well-known Jarrell and Hammons influences, but he has incorporated elements from artists as diverse as Kenny Baker, Stephan Grappelli, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker. He is ably accompanied by Libby’s powerful guitar playing, which has acquired a quirky, rhythmically exciting character derived from both classic fingerstyle blues techniques and hot-licks flatpicking. There is something for everyone to enjoy on this release. ... Fans of The Red Clay Ramblers’ treatment of traditional fiddle tunes will welcome rhythmically over-the-top versions of "Dog Passed a Ryestraw," "Ducks on the Millpond," and [Old Time] "John Henry." Blues cats will find the combination of Libby’s skillful re-creation of Mississippi Delta fingerstyle guitar with a sparkling, personal “torch song” vocal approach on "Big Road Blues" irresistible. Standout vocal selections include "Beautiful," Bill and Libby’s heartfelt gospel duet reminiscent of Blue Sky Boys material, and Anna’s stunning version of "Tear Stained Eye" by Son Volt songwriter Jay Farrar. Bill’s songwriting runs the gamut from deeply moving in both a musical and lyrical sense ("Anasazi Premonition") to material that would be at home in a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic ("Uncle Charlie’s Revenge").... The recording was made with few overdubs and possesses a clear, warm sound with much immediacy. Vocals are extremely well mixed with instrumental accompaniment. Libby’s guitar sound was recorded with outstanding fidelity. The producers and artists attempted to capture “live energy” as opposed to perfection, and were successful to the point of motivating this reviewer to listen to his treasured Red Clay Ramblers albums again after many years. ...Steve Senderoff, Nov. 2001 

Durham Independent Bill boasts one of the state’s most impressive musical resumes: He was the fiddler for Durham’s seminal Fuzzy Mountain String Band and a founder of its successor, the Red Clay Ramblers.  Here he demonstrates the remarkable flexibility of his fiddling.  Bill can power a robust dance tune, then easily switch to an evocative, softly melodic violin part to accompany his own story songs, such as "The Island Rockers.".... His four songs make South of Nowhere extraordinary rather than merely well conceived.  On "Anasazi Premonition" and "Turn Out the Lights," Bill’s songwriting compares, most favorably, with the RCA Victor recordings of the late John Hartford and the classic work of Kris Kristofferson, respectively.  His own vocals, rough and world weary, prove utterly convincing, with Libby’s lighter and more precise voice providing a perfect foil.  Like its cover, South of Nowhere proves to be a fascinating musical mosaic rich in depth, feeling and variety, running the gamut from traditional dance music to serious singer-songwriter material. Art Menius, 6/13/01

Victory Music Review Though traditional in spirit, the Hicks family has a great ear for contemporary artists: they cover two songs by Dan Hicks (of Hot Licks fame) and Anna leads the way through Son Volt's marvelous "Tear-Stained Eye" with Libby backing her on vocals. The Son Volt choice shows that these musicians have kept their ears open to newer voices all the while staying true to their deepest roots.  Tom McDonald, August 2001, page 13 

Bluegrass Breakdown, WPLN-FM, Nashville I was also quite captivated by Bill & Libby Hicks.  Bill has that old-timey fiddling down to a science and Libby plays a fine, solid guitar.  I especially enjoyed "Big Road Blues" (speaking of guitar -- Tommy Johnson would have been proud), "Sugar Hill/Sally Ann" (a killer pairing and my favorite of the CD), "Ducks On the Millpond" and "Turn Out the Lights." Dave Higgs

Rambles A Cultural Arts Magazine It's apparent that Bill and Libby Hicks enjoy making music. Their pleasure comes out in every note, every word. It's the same joy you'll hear on old releases by Bob Wills and Bill Monroe -- making music for the sheer love of the sound. 

And they do a fine job of it with old-time fiddle music like that which would have provided a family's only entertainment in the days and areas where television, satellites and computers were unheard of. Good old bluegrass-style pickin' and fiddlin'. Which is not to say the CD is limited to just one music style. They've included a beautiful waltz, some blues, love songs and a lovely gospel song as well. 

Veterans on the traditional music front, Bill and Libby Hicks are quite well known and have been making significant contributions for more than 25 years. Libby was teamed with Lightnin' Wells in the '70s while Bill was honing fiddling techniques learned from the likes of Burl Hammons and Tommy Jarrell. Together they are a musical dynamo. 

While I will always choose the fiddle tunes when picking favorites, my "best pick" for this particular CD is the combination of two Tommy Jarrell songs, "Sugar Hill" and "Sally Ann," that is referred to on the liner notes as the violence medley. It's a guaranteed toe-tapper, with outstanding picking and harmony and as much regional flavor as a sugar-cured Virginia ham. 

Joining her parents on vocals for several tracks, Anna Hicks shows what good genes and being force-fed music from birth will get you. She has a clear, strong voice that stands well alone, but is equally beautiful when joined by her mother. Sheree Morrow, 23 February 2002

Bluegrass Unlimited Bill Hicks, for those who are old enough to remember, was a [founding] member of the Red Clay Ramblers, and before that, the Fuzzy Mountain String Band. His fiddle sound was a hallmark of the Ramblers' sound. Fiddle tunes include "Ducks on the Millpond," and a medley of "Sugar Hill/ Sally Ann." His improvisation, which abounds here, is marked by a searing tone and melodic sense much like a bebop horn player. His vocal ease is a strong contrast to his ambulant bow. Libby Hicks nicely sings blues. But she gets to the core of the lyric as on "Big Road Blues," and there is no mistaking what she is trying to say. ...Robert C. Buckingham, October 2001

Dirty Linen Now for a couple of products of the musical community - Chapel Hill, North Carolina - where this sort of music started being revived in the late 1960s and early l970s. First is a delightful recording by two of the stalwarts of that scene, Bill and Libby Hicks, who have been playing music together for 18 years but just now got around to recording some of it. Bill, the founding fiddler with the Red Clay Ramblers way back when, tears through four sets of Round Peak tunes, blended over the years into his own powerful, inimitable style and backed up by Libby's adventurous but rock-solid guitar work. Swing is an important element of the Hicks duo's sound and they borrow a couple of great Dan Hicks songs. Bill and Libby's voices work well together, with Bill's strong and almost conversational lead tied together by Libby's clear, high harmony. Libby's background is in the Piedmont blues, and her talents in this field shine on several great tracks, especially Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues." Bill's original songs, from the serious and lovely "Anasazi Premonition" to the zany "Uncle Charlie's Revenge," are treasures, as well. Bruce E. Baker, February-March, 2002, p. 55

Green Man Review Fiddlin' Bill doesn't wait too long on a fiddle tune before he launches himself out of it...Not only keeping rhythm, Libby rounds out the sound with some nice harmonization on the guitar...The seeming abandon of Bill's fiddling and the precision of Libby's guitar-playing make these some of the more enjoyable fiddle tunes I've heard.  But there's more than just fiddle tunes here. Bill and Libby make excellent use of their daughter's voice in a couple of tracks. "Evenin' Breeze" is country-tinged swing with two-part backing vocals by Libby and Anna Hicks....a very fun song..."Uncle Charlie's Revenge," a very humorous Hicks-penned song about a fiddle, a tree, and Charles Jarrell, uncle to the famous fiddler Tommy Jarrell. Thoroughly tongue-in-cheek and thoroughly enjoyable, this track is the perfect icing to a remarkable CD.  Brendan Foreman

efolkMusic Old-time music fans consider fiddlin' Bill Hicks a living legend. One of the founders of The Red Clay Ramblers in the early 70's, his playing and singing have been extremely influential in the traditional folk music scene. This album is a duet of love with spouse Libby, and was smartly picked up by the respected Copper Creek label. It contains a mix of old-time tunes, blues, original songs and old hymns. Their great respect for the music can be heard in every note. ...Chris Frank

SPBGMA's Bluegrass Music News Bill Hicks visited and learned from fiddlers such as Tommy Jarrell and Burl Hammons. Bill's fiddle is very "old-timey," and he gets a bit wild on "Uncle Charlie's Revenge." That is one funny song and was written by Bill. Bill collected and performed old fiddle tunes with the Fuzzy Mountain String Band and was a co-founder of the Red Clay Ramblers. Libby Hicks worked in a duet with Lightning Wells, an old-time and blues musician in North Carolina. Bill and Libby have been together for eighteen years. Their music is definitely old-time country music with some very nice blues thrown in to sweeten the mixture. "Big Road Blues," written by Tommy Johnson, is a good showcase for Libby's touch with the blues.  My personal picks were "Tear Stained Eye," featuring Bill & Libby's daughter Anna's lead to Libby's tenor and Bill & Libby's duet on "Beautiful." There are some good fiddle tunes with aggressive guitar runs. Those fans who really dig "old-time" country music will love South Of Nowhere. ...Frank Overstreet

Northern California Bluegrass Society Bill and Libby have been playing music together for 18 years and they have developed a synergy that supports each other's instrumentals and vocals. Bill spent many years learning from the traditional fiddlers like Tommy Jarrell in West Virginia. He was part of the Fuzzy Mountain String Band and the Red Clay Ramblers, two groups that were influential in old-time music and bluegrass. Libby's influences were the old bluesmen and she learned over 200 songs in duets with Lightnin' Wells. The CD is an amazing collection of original songs, old-time fiddle tunes and bluesy numbers with Libby's rumbling rhythm guitar and Bill's fiddle weaving around the vocal lines. Bill has four original tunes on the CD: "Anasazi Premonition", "Turn Out The Lights", "The Island Rockers" and "Uncle Charlie's Revenge", all singer-songwriter images of golden moments on the beach, a stolen moment in a motel, and dancing to a Telecaster. 

Libby's blues vocals on "It Hurts Me Too" and "Big Road Blues" make these songs her own creation and the guitar work will rival any Mississippi Delta wanderer. Their daughter Anna joins them on several songs and their harmonies together are seamless and a joy to hear. This CD is like peeling and eating an orange; there are wonderous parts to be savored and it is worth the time to take each song and hear it over and over and extract the many nuances in each segment. Brenda Hough

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