Austin, Texas born Trey Hunter is making up for lost time. He didn’t pick up a guitar for the first time until his early thirties as an emotional outlet after illness devastated his life. Now in his forties, he composed hundreds of songs chronicling far more than just the psychological impact of living with physical infirmity. The dozen songs present on his album English Poets explore many experiences and emotions; pegging Hunter as a songwriter mired in despair misses the mark. His musical imagination matches his lyrical inventiveness. There is a self-reflective bent to the performances included on English Poets, but they are never cut off from connecting with listener who haven’t shared the same journey. His music bears the label experimental folk but labels fail in the end. These are just songs, honest and unvarnished expressions from the heart and defy easy categorization.

I knew Trey Hunter presented something unique after hearing the first track “Death of Eileen”. Hunter juxtaposes the funereal vibe rife throughout the lyrics with light stepping musical backing but likewise expands the borders of the folk song idiom with audible pop influences and a willingness to upend listeners’ expectations. The song reflects the latter point in how it shifts from a vocal/keyboard duet in its first half to a vocal/acoustic guitar structure in the song’s second part. Many of the other songs adopt a different thrust. Keyboards are recurring throughout the entire collection, but the pairing of acoustic guitar and singing guides many of the album’s dozen songs. The title track is no exception. Understated humor runs through the lyrics for “English Poets” and expands on the song’s emotional tenor without rendering it light-hearted. It’s one of the moments on the album where Hunter juggles a variety of emotions with satisfying results.

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Ghostly keyboards add gossamer brushes of color to “I Am Man” and the near shuffle of his guitar playing has a percussive quality we hear elsewhere on the album. His voice has a nasal sound, for sure, but I think it is pleasing nonetheless. Hunter brings the same relaxed focus to this song present in the other eleven recorded for English Poets. Keyboards are present near the end of “A Hero in You”, but the light jangle of acoustic guitar and Hunter’s vocals dominate the majority of this track. It ranks, for me, as one of the best lyrics on the album. “How I Feel” competes for that honor as well and his singing elevates it several more notches. Hunter throws the full force of his emotive talents behind the song’s vocals while avoiding any histrionics capable of blunting its final effect on listeners.

“Tame My Ego” is another highlight on English Poets. Hunter’s wont for the poetic emerges in a vivid way during this song though he eschews high flown language in favor of a conversational dialogue with listeners. His singing is affecting once again without ever lapsing into melodrama and he once again marries ideal guitar accompaniment to his lyric writing. There is a palpable air of melancholy surrounding “To Be Yours” despite the solemn vow of devotion heard in its lyrics. Hunter matches the delicacy of the song’s arrangement with a moving and vulnerable vocal. English Poets is thoughtful and one of the most compelling releases in recent memory regardless of genre.

Nicole Killian

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