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

Mika: Life In Cartoon Motion (Universal)

Mika: Life In Cartoon Motion (Universal)

The question which seems to be taxing radio DJs about this Mika -- from the UK, not the Kiwi of the same name -- is whether or not he's gay. The correct answer is, "Who cares?"... > Read more

SHORT CUTS: A round-up of recent New Zealand releases

SHORT CUTS: A round-up of recent New Zealand releases

Facing down an avalanche of releases, requests for coverage, the occasional demand that we be interested in their new album (sometimes with that absurd comment "but don't write about it if you... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

John Cage: Mushroom Haiku (date unknown)

John Cage: Mushroom Haiku (date unknown)

The American composer John Cage (1912 - 92) was best known for something he did in '52, which was nothing. The composition which he performed was entitled 4'33" and involved Cage sitting at... > Read more

Llew's pork & prune medley, from the Republic of SunnyO

Llew's pork & prune medley, from the Republic of SunnyO

Andrew Llewellyn who contributes this makes an excellent point when he says, "is there any meal that cannot be vastly improved by the addition of bacon?" Read on and you will see that... > Read more