For a guy who seems pretty reserved in interpersonal interactions, Hutch Heelan can be a high-profile guy. He popped up in January on WMPG's Local Motives to play tunes off his brand-new Inner Space Odyssey, both live and actual album tracks, and I found myself listening to the entire 90 minutes. Josh Lovejoy — curator of the Maine Music Wiki and the guy who put out that To the Moon, to the Stars benefit album last year — hosts, as he often has since Jan Wilkinson stepped away last year.
RAISING AWARENESS Hutch Heelan.
(Extended sidenote: LocalMotives.org is a treasure trove of performances, including stuff they've been pulling out of the archives lately like performances by Twitchboy, Colepitz, and Lincolnville. The last from 1997, two years before Black Box, but with a very nice "Medicate Luck." Go there.)
In the exchanges between Josh and Hutch, many of them populated by periods where neither knows what to say next, there is plenty to inform the listener of Heelan's work: His first true love was Primus; he does things just to be different; he actually ate a Shire Sausage at Denny's. (Also, Josh believes The Bends to be the best Radiohead album; I'd take everything afterward over that.)
Actually, Odyssey isn't as all over the map and willfully unique as his debut Mercury Music. Heelan is certainly a better singer now, with a resonant delivery in the chorus of "In the Middle of Somewhere" that really sets the hook and a playful come on in "Coffee Crush." He can ape his old bandmand, too, with pop rock cadences like Pete Kilpatrick.
Heelan is still well outside most of what you're hearing today, though, bringing in late-'80s Cure and REM at times and generally teaming with producer Jonathan Wyman to play guitar tones off of one another in pleasing ways (Tony McNaboe played drums, but Heelan did much of everything else here). "Eyes of a Child" has a great repeating western riff on the acoustic while distortion fills in the harmony piece in the left channel. And maybe Heelan's best lyric: "The world's spinning faster now than it did back then."
Other times, the lyrics can get a bit clumsy: "Just like sunshine, shining on my face/Warming me from outside to my inner space/I almost lose it, every time I see your face." I dunno. There's also a falsetto in "Fear of Failure" I'm not sure about.
All told, though, Heelan is a unique voice who makes you pay attention. Odyssey is definitely a trip.
INNER SPACE ODYSSEY | Released by Hutch Heelan | with Valerie Orther + Johnny Cremains | at Empire, in Portland | Feb 16 | hutchheelan.com