In some ways Roots R&B/Americana singer/songwriter/piano player/guitarist KELLEY HUNT is a rarity and a challenge to the music industry's penchant for easy artist definitions -- a woman who has muscled her way onto the scene on her own terms with an identity steeped in blues/roots/Gospel traditions and a refreshing originality. She makes music with it's righteous roots intact that also crosses boundaries, has an open-minded, exploratory attitude and takes on social and political issues. Together… Show more with a commanding, passionate stage presence and superior skills as a vocalist, piano player and songwriter she has earned the respect of critics and fans across North America and Europe.
Born in Kansas City, Hunt’s love for her craft was fine tuned listening to early blues, R&B, roots rock, jazz and Gospel influences -- artists like Ruth Brown, Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday, Ann Peebles, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin, Charles Brown, Wanda Jackson and a crossection of the New Orleans/St. Louis/KC piano traditions of Professor Longhair, Toots Washington, Johnnie Johnson and Kansas City masters Jay McShann and Mary Lou Williams among others. Before that came the sound of her mother singing jazz and blues - her first musical memories - and the influence of her New Orleans Gospel singer grandmother. Reminders of these very traditional influences are evident in Kelley’s live performances and recordings but the lyrics, soul and passion are all her own. Her career path so far has been a story of fierce independence, incredible will, unassailable cred as a blistering live performer and hard-won accomplishment.
Hunt's world has not been short on substantive, impressive critical praise, including a fresh swell of kudos for the new generation of music unveiled on her new 88 RECORDS release MERCY (May '08 EER0804, her 4th commercial release): "Kelley Hunt resides among those bluesy, soulful piano players who write great songs." "...the main attraction here is Hunt, whose rich, soulful voice is an instrument in and of itself, with a toughness that shines on cuts like "You Got To Be The Vessel." "Her piano playing and songwriting also function at the highest levels." "Emerald City" is a brilliant political statement…” -VINTAGE GUITAR. “… Her fourth release "MERCY" shifts the focus to her songwriting skills and immense voice." "...a superb live performer, immediately drawing you to the power of her music and her voice... " -ELMORE. "Surprises don't often crop up on the well-trodden blues circuit. So welcome Kelley Hunt. This Kansan is a full-blown phenomenon: Powerhouse singer, hardboogieing pianist, polished songwriter…” -MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNE. “…the freshest slant on classic R&B you're likely to hear these days. She's a tough woman who makes a hip and burly sound." - WESTWORD Denver.
Today there is a further expansion of her influence as an artist marked by the timely convergence of MERCY's release and a multi-faceted involvement in decorated indie filmmaker Kevin Willmott's (9TH STREET, CSA) new sci-fi political thriller "Bunker Hill" which she co-scored, co-wrote and performed the closing-credits theme track for ("Mountain To Move" - also the final track on MERCY) and in which she has a small onscreen role. And later this year she will have three pieces of music in award-winning filmmaker Andrei Kirilenko's feature-length documentary "Some Like It Latte". But for Hunt the shift started where the songwriter's vision gets translated to everyone else - in the recording studio.
It's a chilly afternoon in 2007 in Nashville at Brian "Brain" Harrison's Rendering Plant studio. Earlier there had been some good wine, people exchanging war stories from their experiences in the biz, some chocolate (of course), a little throwing of the slimy tennis ball for studio Jack Russell terrier brothers Cecil and Leon and, naturally, discussions about the music and charting of the day's material. Now it's time to deliver the goods and the joviality and camaradarie gives way to a beautifully positive focus and anticpation - kind of like a team taking the field for the big game. Kelley Hunt takes a minute to consider her surroundings. From her spot at the piano she sees some old friends and new collaborators - brilliant young guitarist Rob McNelley; the old-school master and original Motown funk brother bassist Bob Babbitt; the ultimate "glue" man guitarist Colin Linden; superb Hammond B3 master Mark Jordan; and wickedly rootsy and versatile drummer Bryan Owings. It was just what she had imagined - the right collection of musical skills and personalities to give up her vision for this new record - a combination of old and new, lots of heart and lots to say.
On the notebook sitting on her piano was a handwritten quote from Muddy Waters - "The Blues is my religion". Hunt's own artistic identity casts a broad net stylistically -- but the quote was a perfect reminder of where she started as an artist and a writer.
Moreso than at any time in her career or in any previous recording situation she felt energized, surrounded by brothers who were totally together with her intention on this new material. She was feeling the upcoming sessions more like a relaxed but intense "family discussion" than an urgent, "meter's running" recording experience. In anticipation of a joyful noise about to be made she simply said, "OK, y'all, here we go..."
What happened next was MERCY - an intense, intentional collision between Hunt's righteous roots influences and contemporary overlays with rich veins of political and social commentary threading throughout. The new effort is a highly charged, clearly defined next step in artistic evolution incorporating what has come before with stark departures and a sharper focus and a fitting follow-up to her acclaimed 2004 release "New Shade of Blue" on Coda Terra/88 Records co-produced by the eminent team of Garth Fundis and Gary Nicholson. And it's certainly poised to build on a story comprising over 90,000 idie units sold, over 1500 live performances, wide-ranging Blues, A3, Americana, non-com, satellite radio spins, six live appearances on American Public Media's "A Prairie Home Companion", numerous PBS appearances, film music placements, and an organic, rootsy, broadly defined identity as an artist/writer that has landed her on prestigious pan-genre stages like the Austin City Limits Music Festival and Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival in addition to a formidable list of blues and jazz/blues events. But for Hunt MERCY has a significance far beyond the next career move.
"In many ways I feel like this is a project I've been waiting to make for a long time, but that I needed to make right now. Kind of like purposeful, timely reckless abandon," said Hunt.
In taking the reins as co-producer on this project Hunt needed to make sure certain points came across. She was boiling over in frustration and impatience with some of the politics and social positioning in American and world society and had some definite concepts of how she wanted her ideas expressed musically.
"Like a lot of people, I'm riled up now," said Hunt.
That frustration crystalized Hunt's decision to throw away boundaries and get to the point on MERCY - but from some unexpected angles and in ways not always intended to be very pretty. On MERCY there are songs from Hunt's solo pen and intriguing collaborations with writers Gary Nicholson, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Jim Ritchey and Dwight Liles. The collection of themes represented all contribute to an overarching statement: stop and really look at what's happening these days, take personal responsibility for your world, don't make harsh judgments about what you can't understand, do take action to correct injustice, it's time for MERCY for ourselves and in general. Heavy-handed? Tedious? Self-righteous? Hardly. In Hunt's calls to restore a more truthful, honest, compassionate balance she never preaches, preferring instead to persuade by example - both subtle and direct - through anecdote, storytelling and metaphor. There are funk grooves, psycho-Gospel imperatives, rootsy neo-rock anthems, intense ballads, mournful blues plaints, latin-influenced introspections, alt-boogie and even New Orleans feels all channeled with rock-solid validity through Hunt's identity to make her various points on MERCY.
"If we don't care about everyone else - at least a little - in the way we conduct our personal lives and our public policy, and if we do not seek and demand more truth from our government and ourselves we deserve what we get. I choose to live intentionally," comments Hunt. Points taken in compelling fashion on MERCY and points she intends to make every time she takes the stage.
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