Robert J. Hunter Band – Before The Dawn
10 songs – 43 minutes
Born in the south of England and based out of London, Robert J. Hunter fronts a three-piece power blues-rock trio that features his gruff vocals atop a musical tapestry filled with the unique sound of his often overdriven guitar.
This is the second release for Hunter, a multi-instrumentalist who doubles on keys and bills his music as dirty rhythm-and-blues. His first album, Songs For The Weary, was well received in the UK and featured a single, “Demons,” that reached the top of the British iTunes blues charts. He’d worked in support of a wide range of diverse talents, including The Animals, Wilko Johnson and Eddie & The Hotrods.
Hunter is backed here by Greg Sheffield on drums, percussion, piano and organ and James Le Huray on bass, mandolin, percussion and keys. Both sidemen provide backing vocals on the disc, which was produced, engineered and mixed by Andy “Hippy” Baldwin. An artist as well as a musician, Hunter also created and designed the sleeve himself in addition to writing all of the material.
Available through most online retailers, the album kicks off with “They Think That I’m Fine,” a driving medium-paced blues atop a repeating guitar hook. The vocals are slightly buried in the mix as Hunter sings about personal troubles hidden from the world. The tune flows straight into “Rumour Mill” via a modulated six-string bridge as it conveys the message that neighbors all know your secrets in a one-horse town. A simple hook propels the beat before Hunter launches a brief solo before returning to the root.
The tempo slows and wall of sound diminishes briefly before slowly building again for “Preacher,” a ballad on which the singer’s vocal skills are fully revealed and he recounts a brush with death and realization of what he truly needs in life. “Three Shake Fold” is a funky blues that deals with the revelation that the singer’s taking too much time loving his lady. It’s followed by another view of romance, “Scared Of Loving You,” in which he’s wary because he’s been used by others in the past.
The ballad “Breakdown” follows and is delivered from the position of someone who’s been stripped down to his essence and comes face-to-face with his flaws and the desire to become a better man, while “Feathers” describes the mental hell and physical ills resulting from the deterioration of a relationship that has just one more chance to survive. It features an extended mandolin solo from De Huray and some truly dark lyrics describing his suffering.
That tune bleeds into “Crows,” about “a chewed up mind” having a way of its own, before Hunter gets funky again for “Running Gun,” about picking one’s self up and starting over again, before the bluesy rocker “Draw The Line” concludes the set.
If you’re a fan of modern blues-rock and would like something truly different, this one’s right for you. The material is fresh and the words strong, although occasionally obscured. I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to the blues and Before The Dawn truly is outside of my comfort zone. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.