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Hunter Muskett Hunter Muskett
Album: Unafraid And Sober
Label: SPC
Tracks: 11

Back in 2013, I had the pleasure of reviewing Hunter Muskett's excellent album "That Was Then, This Is Now" for this very magazine. That album was the first by the reformed Hunter Muskett, the original band having split up in 1974. Remarkably, the reformed HM had exactly the same line-up as the original band, namely Terry Hiscock, Chris George, Doug Morter and Rog Trevitt.

Fast forward to October 2016, when I enjoyed a superb evening at the Bothy Folk Club in Southport when the guests were, you've guessed it, Hunter Muskett. This was a special evening, as not only was it my first chance to see HM live [somehow our paths did not cross in the 1970's] but there was also a surprise [and rare] appearance by 1960's psych-folk legend Marc Brierley for good measure.

At the Bothy gig in October, we were given a preview of songs from HM's second post-reformation album "Unafraid and Sober", which were most impressive, so I was looking forward to hearing this new album. As principal songwriter Terry Hiscock told me "It is only our fourth album in over forty years, but we wanted to get it right".

Well, did they "get it right?".

The answer is most definitely "Yes".

This is a lovely album, full of great songwriting [mostly by Terry] as well as Hunter Muskett's trademark sound : lush vocal harmonies and superb musicianship, especially the blend of acoustic and electric guitars.

The album gets off to a great start with Doug Morter's "Fields Of France", in which a soldier recalls a "dancing lady" as he is about to go into battle. Doug's poignant song has the added attraction of some beautiful fiddle from Tom Leary [of Feast of Fiddles fame].

Aside from Lal and Mike Waterson's "The Scarecrow" [more of which later], all the remaining songs were written by the prolific Terry Hiscock, who just has to be one of our most underrated songwriters.

Terry is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects, such as Middle Eastern politics ["Cairo"] or the refugee crisis ["Sweet Believer"] and, indeed, does so with a great deal of sensitivity.

One of Terry's songs that stood out for me when I saw the band live was his evocative description of the occasion in February 1959 when the 'plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed in Iowa, killing all on board. This haunting ballad ["North Of Clear Lake"] gently segues into "I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore" and the sense of loss is enhanced by a delicate guitar solo.

Continuing the musical theme, but in a contrasting style, is the following track "Archer Street" in which Terry paints a picture of the street in London where musicians would gather, looking for work - "A season or two on The Strand or an opening night with the band". Martin Winning adds some delightful clarinet to give the song "a little bit of jazz".

The one cover on the album is a stunning version of Lal and Mike Waterson's "The Scarecrow", which comes from their "Bright Phoebus" album. HM's version of this classic song features a very special guest vocalist, Jacqui McShee of Pentangle fame. It is a joy to hear Jacqui sing and it brings back memories of my first ever "proper" concert, The Pentangle at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1970.

I should mention here that "Unafraid And Sober" was produced by keyboard player Spencer Cozens, who I know best through his work with the late John Martyn. Spencer has also worked with Jacqui McShee, producing "About Thyme" by Jacqui McShee's Pentangle.

I really like "Unfraid And Sober"'s title track. Beginning with a gorgeous acoustic guitar intro, this reflective ballad features an old seadog who looks back on his life and declares himself ready to meet his maker [" I'll raise that parting glass, 'Til we meet again in that sweet old by and by"].

The album closes with the beautiful, but ultimately sad, ballad "Nowhere Else To Go".

It seems to me to be truly remarkable that a band that split up in 1974 can get back together after forty years and produce an album of such high quality and which sounds so fresh and relevant to today. Hunter Muskett are certainly not resting on their laurels but are coming up with great new material. As they stated on their comeback album "That Was Then, This Is Now".

Peter Cowley