Like a hint of summer in April or a whiff of winter in May, Hunters in the Snow is wonderfully not quite of the moment. There's an unresolved restlessness about its songs that is somewhat at odds with their otherwise easy-going charms and gives texture and flavour - an irresistible crunch - to the set.
The work of artist Roy Hedges and songwriter/producer Luca Nieri, childhood friends reunited following a chance encounter in Hyde Park, the album took shape on a canal boat in the capital as the pair reacquainted themselves with old influences and found new ways to explore their possibilities.
Imagine a soundtrack to the slick office cocktail parties of suburban American in the 1950s and 60s being reproduced in a West Country garden or a West London basement as Andy Williams rubs shoulders with Th' Lone Groover and Damon Albarn plays Bobby Darin b-sides. Melodies are of the defiantly hummable variety and are graced with sumptuous harmonies draped over some sweet chord changes. Hedges' voice twists and turns, mining crow-black Johnny Cash depths one moment and flitting through smiling sunbeams like Colin Blunstone the next.
Elsewhere, the ghosts of Jackson C Frank and Jesse Winchester make themselves felt, although more immediate comparisons can be drawn with the variety show-era Beatles, Richard Hawley's early solo outings and Ray Davies at his most flighty. Fittingly, we meet a motley crew of characters and moods in the songs - from the Dickensian ghost in Signalman and the salty seadogs missing land in The Night Owl to the personal pep talk of Best Laid Plans (sounding like a leftover from The Kinks' Face To Face) and the sardonic sting of the closing cut, The Town Where No Birds Sing.
The world of Hunters in the Snow is just like the one we see every day, only not quite. Let's be glad.
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