Man Overboard

Ian Hunter

New West Records, 2009

http://www.ianhunter.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/29/2009

Jethro Tull once declared themselves “too old to rock and roll; too young to die.”  You can rest certain Ian Hunter would never say any such thing.

That much seems safe to say after a listen or twelve to the latest from this now-70-year-old veteran of the rock and roll wars – his third consecutive album of material that’s not just “pretty good for his age,” but damned impressive for any performer of any age.  First there was the fiery renaissance that was Rant (2001); then came its smashing successor Shrunken Heads (2007); and now the third in this tremendous trilogy, 2009’s Man Overboard.

The first five tracks here are as strong an opening run as any Hunter has ever delivered.  Opener “The Great Escape” rides in with a witty look back at a decades-past encounter with “the best left hook in the business,” and the wisdom the brawling young Hunter gained that night.  Hunter’s gloriously rough-edged voice gets a workout on the following “Arms And Legs,” a heartfelt, warmly upbeat and perfectly executed love song.

“Up And Running” and “Babylon Blues” are the two true rockers here, typically defiant anthems full of piss, vinegar, brio and everything else you’d hope to hear from an ex-hooligan like Hunter.  Between the two comes the title track, a soaring, openly Dylanesque ballad about the disorientation of modern life for anyone out of sync with it, whether by choice or by fate.  It’s a brilliant lament full of lines like “Reality this, reality that / I been there once and I ain’t going back / They squeezed me ‘til I came apart at the seams / Now I’d rather dream drunk and disorderly dreams.”  The strings that come in on the final coda courtesy of producer/guitarist/musical director Andy York are the perfect finishing touch. nbtc__dv_250

The second half is solid, if not as persistently superb.  “The Girl From The Office” is the one track that feels like a misstep here, a rather sing-songy and predictable fable about male braggadocio.  “Flowers” is a nice bit, a thinking-man’s protest song, and “These Feelings” is a stock Hunter ballad, which is to say it hangs together well even if it never really ignites.  “Win It All” is the quietest moment, a “cheer you up” tune for a friend laid low, and “Way With Words” is the setup for the finale, a mostly acoustic number whose sleepy tempo supports a well-crafted paean to a lover both patient and wise.

Closer “The River Of Tears” is one of those tunes where Hunter periodically dares his audience to follow him someplace unexpected.  No, he’s not too cool to take a stab at retelling a familiar Native American legend, thank you very much, and he’s going to deliver it with genuine commitment from the opening lines, in which he spots a plaque next to a hotel elevator, which he proceeds to turn into a five-minute steady-building story-song.  The expatriate-Brit songwriter as tribal-elder storyteller?  Well, yes, actually, in hands as wise and wizened as Hunter’s, the otherwise awkward role-playing might just work.

On Man Overboard Hunter’s lyrics are as full as ever of self-mocking intelligence, but there’s a tad less bite to them this time around and a bit more of a wistful tone.  That said, someone who’s lived through as many misadventures as Hunter has more than earned the right to wax nostalgic a bit, and nobody does it better or more entertainingly.  While his peers creak into retirement or make idiots of themselves playing at the young bucks they once were, Hunter accepts all that life has flung at him with wry equanimity and keeps right on doing what he’s always done best – making memorable music that’s rich with the insight of a life thoroughly lived.

Rating: A-

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