Karen Hunter: Inside Outside (Rawfishsalad)

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Karen Hunter: Little by Little
Karen Hunter: Inside Outside (Rawfishsalad)

As a performer, Auckland singer-songwriter Hunter is one of the most assured we've got. She shifts effortlessly from acoustic cafe to the festival circuit in Canada, bars in Australia and thinks nothing of strapping on the Telecaster for nuggety rock gigs.

You can take the girl out of the metal but ...

After her excellent Private Life of Clowns of '98 -- which covered all the above bases plus spoken word, subtle jazz influences and a cappella -- it seemed her time had come.

Despite that remarkable album and years before that hosting the Raw Fish Salad nights for women performers at the Java Jive, she remains a figure on the margins. This double disc might not change that - it lacks the distilled intensity of Clowns - but as a calling card it is impressive. There is one disc of solo performances and one with the band (both are recorded live), which comes with two videos on the second.

Hunter has one of the most sensual voices in the country - full of swoops and power - and she addresses sex and sensuality with refreshing passion. She's also a dynamite guitarist: check out her acoustic work on Love's Good Eye, full of chimes and stops, or the physical instrumental Kokee.

These are largely new songs and some are outstanding: the lean narrative-into-metaphor of Shadows, the atmospheric Washing which invokes the fear-inducing power of our wilder coastlines.

The band disc confirms Hunter's love for a power chord and a bit of 70s Westie rock - she delivers up a gritty version of her throat-thumping Go (on Clowns), spins off some radio-friendly intense pop (Confess), and hunkers down on loose-limbed rhythms for the eco-aware Sparkle and the Pacific reggae on Little by Little.

Her lyrical worthiness and social conscience sometimes let her down. For example, the laboured Money on both discs reminds the Government and Business Roundtable et al that money doesn't rule the world. (Actually it does - their world.)

But if Hunter has somehow slipped past you, check this out, there's much to be impressed by. 

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