Kelly Hunt “Even the Sparrow” (Rare Bird Records, 2019)

Kelly Hunt’s debut album ‘Even the Sparrow’ is exceptionally good. The wistful soulful voice, the mellowness of the vintage calfskin tenor banjo, the frugality of the arrangements all combine to produce an album that is near perfect. It’s a real treat to discover a new artist with such depth and maturity. The songs feel alive and relevant and yet grounded and permanent like they’ve always existed and were just waiting to be discovered. The daughter of an opera singer and a saxophonist Kelly Hunt is originally from Memphis, TN and now lives and records in Kansas City. ‘Even the Sparrow’ took almost two years to record in collaboration with local fiddle player Stas Heaney and engineer Kelly Werts and is set for release on May 17th 2019.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with contemporaries like Gillian Welch and Rhiannon Giddens, the songs are candid and poignant evoking depression era country blues and folk music harking back to the stripped-down sounds of Leadbelly, Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie. Kelly’s voice has the rich truthfulness of June Tabor and the delicate butterfly lightness of Cara Dillon. Occasionally the phrasing and vocal trills remind of the somewhat plaintive British folkiness of the likes of Richard Thompson, Nick Drake and Alexi Murdoch.

The opening track ‘Across The Great Divide’ is about living with a love that has been lost but endures in the heart. “Oh one more time won’t you speak those words I long to hear. That ring like a melody that lingers in my ear”. The way the vocal lingers on the words “long” and “ring” is quite sublime. It fills the senses.  The writing is self-assured and nuanced instantly drawing you into the story with a pulsating hypnotic banjo picking pattern. The recording is clear and crisp allowing through a little ambient fret rattle and percussive effect one assumes is fingernail on the taut calfskin of the banjo.

On track two ‘Even the Sparrow’ Kelly both sings and uses her voice as an instrument with a startling array of vocal techniques perfectly honed and performed. Stas Heaney’s provides a haunting lamenting accompaniment. Clearly a lot of thought went into every aspect of this recording and production and they absolutely nailed it.

‘Back to Dixie’ is a foot tapper introducing guitar, bass and percussion and a backbeat which then drops nicely into a more thoughtful ‘Men of Blue & Grey’ speaking of an unexpected legacy of the American civil war. Track six ‘Delta Blues’ perfectly captures the rhythm and soul of Mississippi blues sung a capella over a drum beat. There’s so much to discover here it’s pointless trying to convey it all in a short review. A joy from start to finish.  Just go listen.

Something really special happened in Kansas City when these people came together to create this album. This is why we write album reviews!

As good as it gets ... a must listen debut!
9/10

Author: John Vaites

London based musician and music fan.

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