Ian Hunter can trace his career back to the late 1950’s but has demonstrated absolutely no signs of slowing down his touring schedule (UK tour dates are booked for November) and even less signs of a drop in quality with ‘Fingers Crossed’ his first album since ‘When I’m President’ received great reviews in 2012. Opener ‘That’s When The Trouble Starts’ is a rollicking, ramshackle barroom brawl of a tune that shows that Hunter is in no mood to retire to a life of watching daytime TV in his slippers just yet and for that fans of quality tunesmiths can be very grateful.
Earlier this year a track was released to promote the upcoming album and the track in question was ‘Dandy’ a perfect homage to David Bowie that really is quite wonderful. ‘Dandy’ is undeniably and unmistakably Ian Hunter at his very best, painting pictures with words that take us back to the early 70’s when a struggling Mott The Hoople (the band had released four records and sold a similar amount) would be embraced by David Bowie and ‘All The Young Dudes’ would re-ignite their career. Hunter transports us back to the heady days of Glam Rock when Bowie, Bolan and The Sweet seemed to be on every radio, TV and newspaper (the bands were omnipresent in those simpler days of limited channels when the singles chart was king). ‘Dandy’ manages to be both poignant and joyous as Hunter reflects on the ending of an era with easily the most fitting tribute to Mr Jones that I’ve heard since his untimely passing.
‘Fingers Crossed’ is no one-trick-pony though as Hunter mixes his subject matter with relish (you won’t get an album of straight up love songs from Ian Hunter) and the results are impressive. The irresistible catchiness of ‘Ghosts’ was inspired by Hunter and his Rant Band jamming in the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis where the likes of Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash cut their teeth under the tutelage of Sam Phillips. The lyrics do a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the old studio even down to the cross on the studio floor where the artists stood to record those early sessions that would change musical history.
The title track takes us back to the 1750’s with the unusual subject matter of forced recruitment or impressment which is probably better known as the ‘press gang’ through many a seafaring film of the mid twentieth century. In the early days of the practise, as the British Navy struggled to man their warships, failure to allow oneself to be pressed was punishable by hanging, which would seem to limit your choices somewhat, so off to sea you’d go. Our protagonist is forced to sea with his fingers firmly crossed that he’ll survive the twin threats of pirates and the hangman’s noose. If you were wondering that this seems all a little dour (it isn’t) ‘White House’ lightens the mood considerably with a tale of buying a house in the country and dealing with the perils of nature as Hunter bemoans “We’ve got birds, we got bees and lots of allergies” and that’s before we get to the rabbits and the beaver….
‘Bow Street Runners’ finds Hunter delving into the history books once again for the origins of London’s first police force and I can safely say you’ve never heard a chorus with the words “Blind Beak and the Bow Street Runners” before. Once again Hunter manages to put together an infectious hook around the most unlikely of subjects and it works brilliantly backed with gentle organ flourishes and an unexpectedly abrasive guitar solo. It’s always good to get a history lesson with your musical offerings. That unexpectedly abrasive guitar tone reappears on the otherwise sleepy (cough) goodness of ‘Morpheus’ and it works a treat as the track slowly builds to a crescendo which proves to be an album highlight. While ‘Stranded In Reality’ fails, for me, to reaches the heights of some of the other material here but as it is also the title of the mammoth limited edition thirty disc (yes… 30) career retrospective box set that is also available from Proper Music I might be in the minority.
‘You Can’t Live In The Past’ adopts a rhythmically reggae influenced guitar motif akin to The Police (The Sting fronted trio not the original London bobbies mentioned earlier) which slides into a silky smooth chorus about moving forward, which is obviously a given for Ian Hunter. The album concludes with ‘Long Time’ a rousing singalong that wouldn’t be out of place in an East End pub late on a Saturday night, after too many pints, with your Auntie Ethel on the ivories and it makes for a relaxed and fitting way to draw things to a close.
Ian Hunter in 2016 has come up with a gem. The man who wrote all those classic radio staples from earlier in his career such as 'Once Bitten, Twice Shy' , 'All The Way From Memphis' and 'Cleveland Rocks' to name but three is still more that capable of writing a great tune as evidenced here on his latest release which stands comparison with his earlier work. Ian Hunter claimed to be delighted with ‘Fingers Crossed’ and I doubt he will be alone in that sentiment.
Red Guitar Music recently caught Ian and his band live in London and the review is here