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Pony Hunt Pony Hunt
Album: Heart Creek
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.ponyhunt.com/

Pony Hunt is the name under which Oakland, California native Jessie Antonick performs. By all accounts she's an intensely industrious, creative lady - the biog lists her as woodworker, seamstress and sailor - yet somehow she finds time to write and perform her own songs too. And she spends half the year in New Orleans, where the bulk of this, her debut album was recorded and from the vital musical melting-pot of which location her own music draws, both seemingly subconsciously and to an unusual extent. Jessie grew up in Chicago, and the R&B, doowop and blues of that city also get to inform her personal take on American roots.

So, given the above influences, what do we expect to hear from Jessie? Whatever your answer to that question, then Heart Creak is all that and much more, rather in the face of the album's determinedly no-frills production and unashamedly sparse scoring. First there's the ebb and flow of the ocean tide in the immutable, lazy, swaying guitar rhythm that underpins a number of the tracks, over and above which we find subtle changes in the form of other instrumental colours either just floating in the water or swimming along for a bit. Second, there's a heavily pervasive sense of atmosphere to the whole record, a peaceful, universally melancholy and almost sinister, detached yet strangely comforting feeling that derives as much from Jessie's gentle, deceptively dreamy, moody, expressively even-toned singing as from the carefully reined-in backdrops she employs. These variously involve Chris Cummings (lead guitar), The Deslondes' Sam Doores (piano, guitar, drums, harmonica) and Max Bien Kahn (upright bass), with isolated contributions from Rachel Meirs and Lyle Werner (cello and violin on Lay Me Down, which also includes what sounds like an electric piano), Dan Cutler, Ross O'Dwyer and Duff Thompson.

And the special combination of Jessie's lead vocal with Teri Sage's harmonies on several tracks is spine-tingling. The tear-jerking beauty of Jessie's writing is best illustrated on songs like Six Years, Lay Me Down and Without A Fight, while her love of doowop styling is most strongly in evidence on Dream Of You and All For Me has something of a mesmeric Gillian Welch feel, Then again, the gorgeous crooning lilt of Sittin' Pretty is informed as much by yodel-ay-hee country and western swing as by honky-tonk twelve-bar, and Sun Rays wakes us with a veritable flamenco-feast of hand-claps and raw foot-stamping percussion. The delicate cooing mantra Take Me then makes for a memorable close to the disc.

Just occasionally the lyrics recede slightly into the texture, and it would've made sense to have them included in the package. But Heart Creak is one of those rare albums which though full of reassuringly familiar sounds and intimate musical gestures, retains much power to disturb and leaves the listener with an inexplicably sensual and wholly invigorating earworm burrowing deep within the psyche.

David Kidman