Trey Hunter opens his album English Poets with the song “Death of Eileen”. The Austin, Texas born singer/songwriter starts his album off with arguably its most eclectic numbers. He constructs the song in two disparate but inter-related parts and builds the early portion of the song around keyboards and vocals. He applies light effects to his voice that gives his singing a droning effect at some points but balances it with a good melody and strong but never omnipresent backing vocals. One of the most significant qualities heard over the course of the album is present here. Hunter often proves himself talented at mitigating his often weighty subject matter with elegant musical accompaniment. The second half of the track underlines this as “Death of Eileen” transitions into a vocal and acoustic guitar duet.
There is no such shifting during the album’s title track. Dollops of keyboard notes bubble to the surface of the mix but this is much more of a straight forward folk-styled track than we hear on the opener. The lyric for “English Poets” is among the finest on the release and Hunter tackles it in convincing fashion. Lyrical excellence continues with the cut “A Hero in You” as Hunter casts a backward glance to his past full of equal parts melancholy and nostalgia. It is admirable how Hunter can consistently delve into such emotions while avoiding any overt demonstrations of sentimentality. Brief bursts of backing vocals buttress Hunter’s singing and give the song additional musicality.
There are some unusual instrumental touches distinguishing “Twenty Odd Years” and the mid-tempo pace of the track gives the recording a shot of urgency it would have otherwise lacked. The rhymes sound inevitable rather than forced; another of Hunter’s strong suits as a songwriter is the naturalness of his art. You never feel like any of his lines are ornamental, but functional instead. The haunted plaintive plea at the heart of “Rescue Me” marks it as one of the album’s more desperate moments and it has a different instrumental sound than other tracks on English Poets The track doesn’t invoke the emotion in a frantic manner however; Hunter sounds exhausted instead and searching for relief.
“Got a Girlfriend Now” has a rural texture unlike many of the album’s other songs and has an approachable demeanor other tracks don’t share. Drums are present in this song unlike many other performances on English Poets, but they are a bit overwhelming in the context of this largely spartan acoustic track. It isn’t something that mars the song beyond repair however. He mingles a slight atonal character informing the track “Time Will Tell” with traditional fundamentals and utilizes echo with his vocals that brings just enough atmospherics to the performance to matter. The sentiments are simple and he doesn’t weigh them down with unnecessary verbiage.
The twelfth and final song “The Weeping Man” is one of the album’s high points and a masterful closer. His clipped guitar playing matches up well with another expansive open-hearted vocal and the song’s autobiographical implications are clear for any listener. It isn’t a perfect album, Hunter might have strengthened it with at least one clear cut uptempo track, but there’s no question English Poets is one of the year’s most intelligent releases thus far.
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