Luanne Hunt – Backroads, Bottles & Blues – Album Review
I gotta say…there’s something extremely charming about Luanne Hunt. It’s that intangible, endearing magic that makes you root for an artist or band to succeed…she’s stocked full of that. Earlier this year, we were introduced to her music through the lead-single “Lightning In A Bottle” in an excellent duet with Steven Bankey – and to read about her tale of twenty-plus years writing, recording, & producing songs to get to this point she’s at with her own development as an artist is seriously inspiring. After all this time…to sum up these notes on her experience concisely…she’s truly found the sound she’s looking for and genuinely feels like the seven songs on her new record Backroads, Bottles & Blues have that pure representation of Luanne’s vocals & music that she’s always been seeking out. And while we all know full-well that I’m always out of my depth in the Country-music genre…I still understand what sounds good – and I can understand completely as to why she feels the way she does about this album.
Humble too. Here’s a quote pulled right from the notes that have come along with Luanne’s new record, written by the artist herself, introducing the players you’ll find on this album better than I ever could – it reads: “As you experience this recording, know that you are listening to literally some of the finest musicians in the world – Hal Ratliff (keys), Austin Ward (bass), Christian Ward (fiddle), Roger Gillespie (drums), Joe Eiffert (lead guitar) and Eric Uglum (rhythm guitar, harmony vocals). All of these guys have played with an array of the biggest names in show business and I am incredibly fortunate to have them on my team.” After listening to Backroads, Bottles & Blues, they definitely all deserve a high-five for a job well done…there’s certainly not a step out of place on this record; and like the gracious professionals & studio aces they all certainly are, they give that space for the star to remain the star. The music is spectacularly well-played – and Luanne certainly sounds inspired by the talent surrounding her…as a result, she’s got herself a great record with Backroads, Bottles & Blues that’s tight all-around.
I did have to have a bit of a chuckle as “The Rhythm (Of A Country Song)” began though…from the perspective of a dude that’s pretty much outside of the Country music-scene for the most part, the song starts out with a laundry list of words that have scared me away from the entire genre my entire life. I know the ‘old me’ well enough to know I wouldn’t have been able to scratch past the surface of this tune back in the day…I like to think the ‘new me’ is a bit more receptive to music of all kinds & has been for nearly two decades now. The ‘old me’ is pretty old by now I guess.
Anyhow! I felt like “The Rhythm (Of A Country Song)” was a sweet & charming tune to start the record with. Loved the old-time piano sound that comes along, loved the fiddle work, drums and banjo are all good, Luanne sounds excellent; I think she’ll reveal more fireworks as the album plays on, but as far as a first impression goes, “The Rhythm (Of A Country Song)” is built to induce a smile…and it succeeds. What really creates the strengths in this opening track is the celebration of the genre it really is; written by Dave Berg and Tim Thompson – they’ve really nailed the essence of what makes Country unique to itself. Through the performance that Luanne puts in, that celebratory nature of this narrative detailing the connection to Country comes shining to the surface…it makes for a gentle invitation into the album.
“Truckstops & Honkytonks” is quite an interesting cut really. Again, I don’t even think I could give the ‘old me’ credit for getting past the title alone…but that’s why I’m glad I evolved and opened-up a bit – because in behind the Country terminology, is an extremely gorgeous melody worth listening to. In all honesty – if you’ve ever spent time listening to a Ben Gibbard solo-album, this isn’t that far removed from that sound/style at all…and that’s one of my favorite writers & artists out there right now. Important to note, because clearly that’s a whole music-scene or two removed from where you’d find Luanne’s music placed out there…but ultimately, you’ll find a ton of crossover appeal through the widespread range of sound that exists on this record…for you Folk/Indie fans out there – you’ll dig this. You can hear the combination of true craft in the writing comes with true sincerity & heart – and what could have been dismissed as just another Country song by its title, a track like “Truckstops & Honkytonks” becomes something remarkably special from the way this song is executed & performed so impressively. Lyrically, I think this song exceeded just about every expectation I had for what I thought I was in-store for with a tune called “Truckstops & Honkytonks” – this is all aces and perfect for the humble sound of Luanne’s vocals and relentlessly charming sound she’s got in the sweetness of her tone. Detailing what life is like as an independent musician that isn’t on the mainstream or perhaps even on anyone’s radar at all yet, but out there all the same, doing what she loves night after night – and I’d imagine that for many of you reading this review, you’ll relate to what she’s singing about here. Lyrically & musically, this is a bulletproof tune that nails it from concept to execution – love this song.
Each time I took a spin through this record, I kept coming back to “Broken Branches” as likely my favorite track from the entire set of seven – I think this is a phenomenal tune, truly. Written solely by her husband, cohort, & long-time collaborator Steve Hunt, Luanne brings the words of “Broken Branches” to life with beautiful emotion and exquisite melody. Make no mistake…she’s been sounding great since the record began…but with a little less happening in the music and a more intimate performance, a bit more space…she makes certified magic happen on the microphone throughout this third tune. What’s not to love about this song? The chorus is breathtakingly beautiful, straight-up. Long before you even get to that, you’ve still got perfectly placed guitar that’s played sparingly but with real soul…beautiful keys placed subtly in the mix guiding the melody with the gentle drums…a verse that stands-out for its incredible writing – and THEN somewhere around there afterwards, you get a chorus that is so next-level gorgeous & graceful that you’ll feel this song head straight to your heart to make a new home there permanently. Purely stunning…I felt like “Broken Branches” completely transcended any kind of ‘normal’ listening experience…it’s songs like this that are the reason I get out of bed in the morning each day, hoping that I’ll find something that’s truly beyond special like this song really is. “I don’t know how to reconcile what is and could have been” is an amazing line from “Broken Branches” – and this song is absolutely stocked full of them…I really think this is one of the best songs of the year.
I liked “Lightning In A Bottle” when I first heard it, I still remembered it when I heard it again, and I still think it’s a great song to this very day right here. I’m not the only one mind you – you can read about this song’s adventures out there on the online charts and spend a full day’s worth of time tracking down all the places out there that this single ended up. Suffice it to say, more than a few people out there have had a listen to “Lightning In A Bottle” and Luanne’s duet with Steven Bankey – they really sound fantastic and together they make a traditional style & approach to Country music relevant for right now. This is also the first of two appearances that Bankey will make on Backroads, Bottles & Blues – he’ll come back in for another highlight collaboration on the final track “Love Led Us Here” – and each time you’ll hear that exquisitely rich & bold tone he’s got in his voice, your ears will appreciate what he brings to the songs he’s co-written with Luanne for this record. Have a read of the full review we put out on the lead-single “Lightning In A Bottle” back in March this year by clicking right here.
Now…I don’t want to accuse Luanne of juicing her performances on the songs written exclusively by her husband…but…well…I mean…don’t “Broken Branches” and “Old Tobacco Road” both stand-out in this set when it comes to the sweetness in her vocals & melodies? I’m just teasing her of course…she really does sound great throughout this entire record – but in my opinion, she really also does have an incredible understanding on how to approach the lyrics written by her husband…which I think is actually quite a beautiful thing in and of itself. There’s certainly a love & respect there in their daily life…but yeah, an understanding as well as artists…the kind I’d suppose you could only ever garner by knowing a person for years & years. Luanne really makes the lyrics sparkle with melody and the sincerity that as listeners, we always hope to hear; and I think that’s the sign of a real gift when a singer can establish that connection to words that aren’t their own…Steve clearly understands the kind of writing that will resonate with Luanne and suit her voice as well…and the end results of both tunes that are found on Backroads, Bottles & Blues in this combination between them, are serious highlights on the album. I think the keys and bass leading the way through this melody are spectacular, I think the backing vocals are essential, and I think that Luanne continually sparkles & shines throughout “Old Tobacco Road.” With a bit more space surrounding her, intimate moments like this tune and “Broken Branches” really do stand out for their sincerity…I couldn’t get enough of either track and think Steve is certainly a writer that really ‘gets it’ – he can write a killer song that incorporates beautiful insight & complex emotions – and Luanne seems to know exactly how to elevate those words to the next level they truly deserve.
“Whiskey Wisdom” is a great tune all-around…a real track that I can’t imagine anyone out there who loves classic Country wouldn’t truly love – but also one that has just enough of a modern twist once again to make it appeal to a whole other crowd as well. The background vocals are STUNNING…and what a great idea to have them threaded into the mix the way that they are! In behind the sweet sway of the lead vocals, you’ve got an inspired Gospel-esque energy that surges through the background, adding a brilliant contrast to the entire experience that seriously works wonders. Essential harmonica on this song too – amazing stuff happening there…all over the atmosphere & energy of this tune really; from the vocals to the music, I think “Whiskey Wisdom” is such an oddly comforting & inviting song considering the theme in the lyrics – but what an inviting sound right? If you’re listening closely, you’ll realize that absolutely everything about this fits together like it’s a 500 piece puzzle set all snapped together to complete the full picture; it’s about that comfort a man can tend to find in the bottle – “it’s dangerous and it’s dumb – to him it is just whiskey wisdom.” I think this has another set of incredible lyrics, I love that “Whiskey Wisdom” also takes a noticeably dramatic/theatrical turn in the bridge as well, and I think the way that Luanne sings the chorus is spot-on perfection with her pacing & tone.
When you focus…when you make sure that the attention to detail is as perfect as perfect can be…when you put your heart & soul into every performance…AND you choose to keep the set-list short, cohesive, and smartly laid-out – you CAN pull in people from outside of the genre into the inside. That’s what Luanne proves with a record like this…I can vouch for that personally, because this whole album has been magnificently spot-on. By not pushing the limits of anyone’s threshold for the particular style of music & keeping the songs on Backroads, Bottles & Blues to a tight seven – even if you’re not a dedicated Country-music fan – I’d be willing to bet you couldn’t outrun this record. Even if you weren’t a fan of the genre, this album would be over quicker than whatever it is that bugs ya about Country could ever get to you – and I think that ultimately, you gotta recognize the reason that IS, is because Luanne really has created an album that’s worth the time to listen, no matter what you normally dig. Wrapping the experience up with a new duet from Luanne & Steven Bankey, “Love Led Us Here” is the stunning ending this album deserved; much as you’d expect after listening to their performance together on “Lightning In A Bottle” earlier on, you already know you can rely on these two to bring their A-game when it comes to their collaborations – and once again, they prove this is an incredible match. The way their vocal tones complement each other is truly special and certifiably gorgeous to listen to. Combined in the perfect settings you’ll find them in, surrounded by sweet fiddle, gentle drums, skilled guitars and subtle bass-lines, they each get an opportunity to really shine in their vocal performances – and they take hold of the moment with bold emotion, confidence, and commitment on “Love Led Us Here” in one final highlight to end Backroads, Bottles & Blues. Another impressive crossover sound – Luanne & Steven finish this experience with real style & sweetness that all can enjoy.
There are more names involved with the making of this album – everyone deserves a massive high-five. Luanne should be extremely proud of how this album came out – because even from as far outside of the genre as I’d consider myself to be, I can hear every bit of the heart, soul, passion, and enthusiasm that this record has in every single song. Extremely well done – I’m not entirely surprised because I already had a sense of what she was capable of from reviewing the lead-single earlier this year – but I can happily say that everything I heard completely exceeded any expectations I had in the best of ways. Luanne Hunt has made a really great record with Backroads, Bottles & Blues, there’s no doubt about it.
Backroads, Bottles & Blues comes out officially on October 8th through the Star 1 Records label – be sure to stay up to-date on the details by visiting Luanne Hunt’s main website at: https://www.luannehunt.com