I’m going to lay it all out to you: when I got Jana Hunter’s second album, There’s No Home, in the mail, I had no clue what I was in for. Frankly, I don’t really remember asking for the album. I lightly skimmed the press release kindly provided and saw the names Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic (Vetiver). Oh ok. Got it. Don’t get me wrong, I do like a little “Freak Folk” (a genre name that I can barely stomach) from time to time. But Jana Hunter’s album came to me when I wanted bombastic, epic music not a small intimate folk album.
So it waited. The CD sat by my ancient laptop, until I decided one night to just give this thing a shot. I was pleasantly surprised by Hunter’s sophisticated and personal sound. Her voice is unlike any that I have heard; wildly implacable, she at times sounds like Banhart and even like Marc Bolan. The songs are short and sweet but as a whole they lend to a very welcoming environment. Hunter even begins the album with “Palms,” a calm, meditative invitation (“I open my hands to you/ And I’ve showed you my palms/ I’ve showed you soft skin for what it really was“). It’s a lovely song, with its simplicity in arrangement making it all the more special. Hunter’s voice has a breathy quality, which adds to the melancholy air of the song.
“Babies” is a change of gears away from a folk influence and sounds rather like early Cat Power albums. It’s also about as poppy as Hunter will get on this album. Backing vocals of “bah bah bah” coat the song as peppy drums and strings swirl about. It’s a relatively light song for the album and it shows a keen awareness of Hunter as a songwriter. She is able to write sad lyrics but she keeps from being a Debbie Downer by accompanying the words with sweet music and by being concise. Many of the songs are under three minutes and it’s enough time to evoke the emotions but not to overtly dwell on them.
One of the standout tracks is “Vultures.” Its guitar work is rhythmic and evocative of Flamenco, while Hunter’s voice is at it’s best, sounding rich and incredibly sexy. The song has a western feel to it creating a rich imaginary desert environment with it, but at the same time retains its femininity. “Regardless” sees Hunter singing with her brother John, and his echo adds to a chilling effect. The song also has an impressive refrain of dueling slide guitars, both played by Will Adams.
“Bird” is an exceptional song that borrows from both country and gospel traditions. It’s also a bit of an uplifting song, much of which comes from the number of friends Hunter has singing with her. The song gives a wonderful sense of community and you almost feel like part of it while listening. “Pinnacle” is a dark contrast; it is a more experimental song relishing in harsh electric guitar bursts and thundering drum rolls.
Jana Hunter has crafted a very impressive second album and it will be interesting to see her grow further as a songwriter. The shorter songs make it harder to discover the nuances, but she makes the most in every minute she has. By borrowing from folk, country and gospel Hunter’s melodies are familiar but her singular voice lends them a mysterious air. Her voice may be her strongest suit; it is incredibly interesting to listen to, simultaneously husky, masculine and feminine. She also makes an excellent choice by keeping her subject matter vague, creating a more foreign environment for the listener. All of this adds up to one very interesting artist and one whose talent can only grow in time.