Karen Hunter: Words and Groove (Rawfishsalad)

 |   |  1 min read

Karen Hunter: Purify
Karen Hunter: Words and Groove (Rawfishsalad)

Those who have followed Auckland singer-songwriter Hunter's long career will confirm that she has progressively moved from a kind of alt.indie outsider status with albums such as The Private Life of Clowns ('98) and Inside Outside ('03) which bristled with ideas from rock, spoken word, jazz-blues and alt.folk to something closer to mainstream jazz cabaret and boho-Beat poetics on her '07 album Rubble.

This new album completes the transition in songs which have a sultry jazz-cabaret feel (over drum, bass and sometimes piano)and throw emphasis on her speak-sing lyrics and narratives.

It is a pity that the two least affecting tracks come first: the story of a Mercedes-driving man out to impress her in Pull Your Head In is weighed down by its cram of lyrics, many of which scan awkwardly and include the following mashed image; "You're so full of oysters there's no room for humble pie, I don't think you've really considered the consequences of your actions . . ." 

The follow-up, an observation of a kind of Desperate Housewives scenario with a nod to lesbian lovers (A Kiss Without a Moustache) is another. "Met him on a Sunday, he was moving the lawn. He looked good, pretty brown skin and his rugby uniform. Only a boy, he could have missed the cues, lady with a head full of Poor Man's Blues" which then moves into something about the government there to pay . . .

The pity is that while these get a bit more traction over repeat plays (and are effectively delivered by the band and Hunter) there is much better which follows.

She reconfigures Hendrix's slippery Long Hot Summer Night as a nightclub steamer with horns, goes back to her older Little By Little which is now stretched out to an eight minute ballad dripping in small hours sensuality before embarking on a speak-sing poem of self-revelation, and later there is the delightful Proximity (over lovely bass work from Aaron Coddel). 

The best here are the percussion-driven poetics of Wheelspin where she weaves her vocals around the simple melody; Purify which is a long exploration in Indo-jazz with a chantlike chorus, coiling flute (Roger Manins), spiritually-inclined vocals and lyrics; and the lovely country-blues (with slide) feel on the the elegantly understated Compromise.

Hunter has never shied away from the difficult and here she brings local imagery and place names into a kind of sophisticated New York nightclub jazz (one consequence is her accent seems to waver between American and antipodean quite a bit).

It's tough to pull off and while those two openers maybe initially off-putting for their heavy-handed wordiness, Hunter has staked out ground of her own and for at least two thirds of this album she succeeds on her own terms.

Those Rickie Lee Jones references of yesteryear no longer apply. 

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Music articles index

Salim Ghazi Saeedi: namoWoman (salimworld.com)

Salim Ghazi Saeedi: namoWoman (salimworld.com)

Over nine tightly drawn and economic instrumentals (all under five minutes), mutliple-threat Saeedi who plays everything here locates himself in that edgy post-metal prog world where pictures in... > Read more

Queens of the Stone Age: Villains (Matador)

Queens of the Stone Age: Villains (Matador)

While it easy to point out the obvious on this album – the skull-pounding riffery which is a QOTSA signature (notably on the closing overs of the pounding Evil Has Landed) and the... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . HASIL ADKINS: Howling at the night

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . HASIL ADKINS: Howling at the night

Whatever his style was, fame had no interest in embracing it. The closest this rockabilly blues screamer -- who started in the mid Fifties -- came to wider recognition was when the Cramps covered... > Read more

HENNING MANKELL'S WALLANDER: A man out of time and place

HENNING MANKELL'S WALLANDER: A man out of time and place

So this is where the killings took place. All around here the bloody brutalities were acted out under this vast sky hanging like an ever-changing canopy over these golden fields of rape plants... > Read more