Luanne Hunt – Season Of Grace – Album Review
Dedicated to the memory of Steve Hunt.
The unfortunate truth behind the making of Luanne Hunt’s new album Season Of Grace – her 15th studio record – is that just as she was getting set to start writing & recording it, her husband & long-time musical companion passed away. As confident as I am in knowing he certainly led a life well-lived with his loving wife, there’s really no two ways about it…the news struck me speechless for a moment or two. I’ve been listening to Luanne’s music for years now and I’m familiar with many of the songs he’s written; knowing that what I’d be listening to on this new album brought a cautionary feeling on…given its tributary nature and the subject matter being so close to the heart…I suspected this would be Luanne’s best ever. And I think there’s a really good chance I’m right about that – she’s put everything she’s got into these tunes and its crystal clear when you listen to Season Of Grace that real love exists and thrives within each of these songs. This is how you honor the one you loved more than any other, listen closely.
I still have very little experience with death personally. I’m down to a few grandparents when considering my extended family…but the closest relative I’ve lost was actually my father in-law, several years ago now. With the type of cancer he had, he came close a couple times to passing over the course of a year, then rapidly declined over mere days that felt like minutes. As my wife and I visited him at the hospital, I found myself in a strange position with questions I felt like I needed answers to…and with his permission, I asked him what I thought might be waiting for him on the other side, without even thinking fully about what the answers could end up affecting myself or my wife. What if he said nothing? What if his response was pure blackness, fade-out, fade-away, and nothing more? When I look back on it all now, I understand why I felt like I needed to ask, but I almost feel like I was careless in not considering what the impact of the answer could have potentially been. Thankfully, it turned out so much better than I could have ever anticipated…his response was something to the effect of him feeling like he’d be driving down the street in his favorite hot-rod, with all his friends & family on each side waving to him as he arrived at wherever the next place might possibly be. How awesome is that right? Brought us all to tears in that moment…I’ll never forget it, and ultimately, I’m glad I asked.
I bring it up, because I’d imagine Luanne feels quite satisfied in a similar way…and there’s a lot of solace & comfort to be found in somewhat knowing what the answer to that question is…there’s a peace that exists within knowing that a passing loved one has a sense of optimism or hope about what comes next.
Steve Hunt wrote one final song that he gave to Luanne before he passed…it’s his words you’ll hear him singing on the new album’s opener called “On The Other Side” – and what comes next is exactly what it’s all about. Clutching his faith close to him, Steve details the comfort, freedom, and acceptance to be found after he passes…and Luanne sings this with the beautiful sweetness his insights deserved. Steve’s spirit is all over this record and the themes Luanne explores throughout Season Of Grace…it would be tough to separate the two things really…and perhaps that’s exactly what we’re not supposed to do anyway. You wouldn’t be able to listen to this lineup and not examine the relationship of Luanne & Steve and appreciate how these songs are written in tribute…I get that. It can be really tough for writers in this situation to get the truth out there without seeming biased in writing about the music based on everything we know…but it’s important to also remember that whatever ‘tough’ time we’d be going through only pales in comparison to what the people in the actual situation would be feeling. The reality is, I’d be singing Luanne’s praises for the way she starts this record whether or not I had known the full story – the way the beautiful energy radiates & beams out of “On The Other Side” warms you right up. What also becomes immediately apparent, is that Luanne has shifted her sound on this album once or two degrees more towards a Pop/Indie/Folk combination…it’ll still reveal the hint of her Country roots and Gospel-inspired lyricism will also find its way into this album many times. “On The Other Side” definitely works and creates quite the upbeat entry into Season Of Grace…again, considering the story behind everything here & the passing of Steve, I think it’s actually quite commendable that so many of these songs came out with such a bright sound & sweet energy to them…you’d have to assume it could have quite easily gone the other way after such a traumatic event and the loss of a loved one. So kudos to you Luanne…for somehow finding that light in the darkness to get through it all and turn tragedy into art & tribute…I think what’s been put into this record represents some of your finest music to-date, and I can only imagine that from high up above, Steve is looking down and smiling at your accomplishments.
“Somehow” is…I’m gonna just say it as plain as I can…I think this is one of the best songs AND best performances I’ve heard from Luanne – and keep in mind, I’ve experienced many! She truly exceeds all expectations and pours her heart into every moment of this song, filling it with remarkable melody and insightful words. I want to be clear…Luanne’s one of the few artists out there that has had the ability to make a guy like me that grew up on Grunge music sincerely enjoy Country…I’ve always enjoyed what she’s put out into the world, because her songs have always come from a truly genuine place. Because she’s always been real with her audience, her music has had that crossover power that can connect people even from outside of the genre, like myself…and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s got an amazingly sweet voice. ALL that being said…”Somehow,” wouldn’t quite put her in the Country category either this time around…and I really think that this clever switch in the direction of her music, however slight, however subtle, still makes a massive impact in the pursuit of making her songs even more accessible to the masses out there listening. I mean, c’mon…if you can resist the tender sway of “Somehow,” you’re built of pure steel to begin with…but if we’re being real here, and talking about where Luanne could potentially fit in with her music now, she’s opened major doors with tunes like this. She could fit on playlists with Ben Gibbard or Iron & Wine…maybe even K’s Choice, The Head & The Heart, or Lisa Loeb in their more acoustically driven moments…you get the idea…these are completely new places where Luanne’s music can exist & thrive and connect to a completely new audience. The honesty in her songwriting on “Somehow” is fantastic, the emotion & strength in her vocals make the words connect, & the way the backing vocals come in to add power to the finale was the cherry on top.
Now…I don’t know how far Luanne wants to take these songs…but I hear a ton of potential in this record for her. When “Please Say A Prayer For Me” started out and I heard it for the first time, the immediate thought in my head is that she’s actually got a very clear & concise theatrical experience that connects – like you could literally imagine the songs & storylines becoming a play, TV show, or movie based on real-life events. Rock-opera is the wrong term for it…and I’m honestly not sure I know what the right one is, but I’m sure you get what I mean…these songs tell a very clear story, harness a wide array of emotions that translate right to us as listeners…and from this perspective we get from Luanne, her words, and the way she sings these tunes…I dunno…call me crazy, but I think this album could transcend what a lot of records do afterwards just existing on a shelf or in a file somewhere…Season Of Grace could become a whole other thing entirely. The pull into this particular song takes place instantly…the twinkling of the piano, the stunning emotion in Luanne’s voice…the heartbreakingly sweet lyrics that get right to the heart of the matter brilliantly, insightfully, honestly, and real. “Please Say A Prayer For Me” expands gorgeously…Luanne delivers from beginning to end and gets the maximum sweetness out of this tune as she sings it, and you’ll find the instrumentation really gets its own turn in the spotlight throughout this song as well. There’s a ton of hooks in this song when it comes right down to it…potential single here.
With the reoccurrence of God, faith, and the comfort of religion showing up again on “God Can Light A Star,” it’s very apparent that this has all been an important part of the healing process and that God’s words were a major part of both their lives. And though I’m personally outside of religion, as many of you know, it’s one of my favorite topics in music to begin with…so I’d never begrudge either Steve or Luanne for following what they believe. Whether it’s God or your own unique path, whether you believe it’s all your decisions or some immaculate design…to me the important part has always been about not squandering the opportunities we have each and every day. I suppose I figure that covers me a little in the event I was wrong about religion the entire time…or that maybe I’ll always believe just enough in something else that I do the best I can to receive the best judgment I can when the day comes – or maybe I just value every moment and appreciate time as best I can while I’m here to spend it. Honestly I don’t really know what motivates me, or any of us…it’s just something inside that seems to drive us forward, and maybe that’s where God lives in us all…like I said, I’m not here to be the judge & jury on that. If you believe what you believe and I can believe that you believe it – I figure that’s what really matters…the sound of true conviction has its own genuine appeal & allure to it for certain, and I’ve always felt like when that sincerity is present, it allows this style of music to crossover big-time. To me, that’s exactly what you get from Luanne here and it is BEYOND impressive…the way she summons the energy in the melody of the chorus and sings it with such exceptional tone and real power in her voice is pure audio pleasure folks…it goes beyond good songwriting and confirms that even here on her fifteenth studio album, not only can Luanne continue to reinvent herself & her music, she’s still clearly on the way up and has tons to offer the scene. Spectacular job all-around on this tune – you’ll love it.
The best way I can put it, is that I probably assumed I was in for a whole album full of “Sunshine & Love” before I pushed play the first time…this track had a bit more of the melancholy & moodiness I just figured would likely line the walls of this record instead of the stunning array of emotions it actually has. And that’s not to say “Sunshine & Love” is predictable, or any kind of a bad song – no no – it’s still a good tune by any measure. Lyrically in particular, I think Luanne’s words immediately hit you hard in the heart as this song begins and the drums start to pound out beats in the background for emphasis, like it’s echoing the punches we take in the feelings as we empathize with this artist’s rebuilding & life after love. I will say that, within the confines of this album, sure, “Sunshine & Love” is probably going to be the song that takes a spin or two to find its permanent spot on your playlists…or maybe this is one of those songs where you’ll need to be in the right mood for it – the facts are that Luanne’s got hooks that are much flashier & easier to digest flanking all sides of this track…which might prove tougher for it to stand out with listeners at first. That being said…suppose for a moment, just a moment, that this IS the toughest track to get right into…honestly, that’s pretty darn remarkable, because it’s still another outstanding song…Luanne’s made sure this tributary set is as well-rounded & flawless as possible. There’s no doubt that its heavier mood & more tangible melancholy will likely make this track more of a cut you reach for when you’re really feeling a vibe like this…but much like the reasons it was made for to begin with, the intentions are to have a song like “Sunshine & Love” for when you really do need it most.
Definitely digging the way the music soars into the beginning of “Scream” with the piano/guitar combo. Again…if you were to have asked me what I thought Luanne would have sounded like on this record, I wouldn’t have told you THIS is what it would be like…”Scream” is probably one of the biggest departures from what you knew about her into what she’s doing right now on this record. An expressive release, you can tell this was an important tune to not just have on this album, but to have written to begin with; you’ll find Luanne letting it go here…venting it out…telling you how it really is in both her singing voice and through spoken word – and the hooks you’ll find here in the chorus are certainly some of the strongest in the lineup of tunes on Season Of Grace. I gotta say – I’m genuinely loving hearing Luanne adapt into so many different styles and thriving like she is…this whole record is full of impressive tunes and “Scream” is definitely among both its best and most accessible songs. This is one of those really important songs in songwriter’s life…the catharsis and healing that creating a moment like this can be so freeing…it’s the kind of song that, had this not been written, it’s hard to say if others in the future would be at all, know what I mean? It totally felt like this was a moment that Luanne needed to create in order for herself to heal and find the strength & courage needed to tackle the next chapter – and hearing her really own this song’s most powerful & memorable hooks with such surging energy was like audible confirmation that tells you she’ll find her way from here. The journey forward might be tough, might even seem futile at times…but in creating “Scream,” she proves she’s willing to fight to the very end and battle to keep her life worth living. As empowering as it is emotional, “Scream” is brilliantly powerful.
Case in-point about the differences in her music, on her title-track, Luanne will prove exactly how far she’s branched out artistically on this record with the brilliant inclusion of a guest-star to drop some bars & provide some faith-based rapping as a second set of hooks on “Season Of Grace.” Come on now…if you’re familiar with Luanne’s music, you weren’t expecting that now were ya? I know I wasn’t! And what a rad surprise! First & foremost, the rap is super strong…dude’s crushin’ it on the m-i-c and suits this whole vibe extremely well. Secondly…and whether or not she’s guilty of intentionally pursuing this combination because it’s hot right now or not, the facts remain, Hip-Hop & Country music are meeting each other in the middle these days and it’s definitely a thing with the people out there at the moment. So ride on Luanne…this was another good move on your part in terms of accessibility for sure…there’s no doubt about the crossover sound that exists throughout “Season Of Grace.” I keep on referring to the Country aspect in which I remember her music most…but there’s more in common with the female powerhouses like Sarah McLachlan or Tori Amos ballads when it comes to the artistic flow & design of a song like “Season Of Grace” than anything Country…I’m just making the point about Luanne crossing over with her sound and expanding its potential is all…you get it I’m sure. This is the way to mix it up right though…I’ve got no objections to this collaboration; I love the jazzy beat of the drums, I love the way the piano melody flows, Luanne sounds as fantastic & on-point as ever, and the rap completely ends up both suiting this vibe and confidently taking the whole song in a very new & exciting direction.
Singing out her pain solo with the piano alone as the final song “If Love Should Ever Come Again” begins, Luanne takes on one of the toughest subjects you can think of…whether or not to get back in the ring when it comes to love after spending so long with one person…wondering what that might be like, or if there’s even a point to trying to start a new relationship…if it’s even possible to love someone as much as you did two times in one lifetime. Is it possible to not compare the past with the present? And then there’s also a whole host of people that can’t move on at all, or think that by doing so they’d somehow dishonor the memory of what was…which is almost never the case; I’d imagine we all want the same things for our loved ones surviving…go and live your life with as much happiness and joy as you can possibly find – however that comes, however that may be. I think you’ll find that within the sentiment of these lyrics that Luanne has come to similar conclusions, and even mentions how Steve wanted the same for her. From the standpoint of this album and the layout, “If Love Should Ever Come Again” is a great choice to have as the final song to leave us with; it ties it all up cathartically, and it also implies there’s still quite a future to follow. I’m not sure about you all out there, but having gone deep into this record and having had my heartstrings pulled apart in the experience of listening to these sweet & sorrowful words…a lil’ bit of hope at the end was exactly what I needed. “If Love Should Ever Come Again” shows us that Luanne is gonna be okay…that as hard as losing her husband has most certainly been, that there’s still so much out there for her to live for, and that she’s open to it all, come what may.
Find out more about Luanne Hunt from her official website at: https://www.luannehunt.com
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