Austin, Texas is a longtime hub for some of the finest musical acts the United States has to offer and Trey Hunter joins those ranks with his album release English Poets. Personal difficulties gave birth to his songwriting muse in his thirties when Hunter first began playing guitar in a serious way for the therapeutic value of expressing himself. He recovered from the illness compromising his physical and mental health but that period lit a fire within Hunter. He has over one hundred songs as a writer now under his belt and the dozen tracks he chose for inclusion on English Poets reveal his formidable talents. He works within the folk idiom but never adopts a purist approach to invoking those traditional influences.
The final point is evident with the album’s first track “Death of Eileen”. The subject matter is, in some senses, arch traditional for folk inspired material, but Hunter confounds expectations by including a strong keyboard presence and essentially dividing the performance into two different but complementary halves. The keyboards are present during the song’s first part before Hunter transitions over to acoustic guitar and vocals leading the way during the second half. Later songs challenge your ideas about what constitutes folk music, but none of them is as outright daring as “Death of Eileen”.
Album title tracks are usually definitive musical statements on a release, or at least important ones, and positioning them early in the track list is sometimes a sign of confidence in the artist. “English Poets” is an exceptional example of what a title track can accomplish and his decision to place it so early in the album’s running order proves to be astute. The intelligence fueling his writing is apparent in the album’s third song “I Am Man” and, while some lines may make listeners chuckle a little, it has a serious yet artful intent. The musical merits of the performance bear out the fact he is a fluid and natural guitarist with superb touch.
“Twenty-Odd Years” definitely sounds like it has strong personal connotations, but Hunter writes in such a way anyone who has endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune will connect with his lyrics. There are idiosyncratic instrumental flourishes peppering the song’s arrangement that have meaning rather than coming off as meaningless tinsel. “Tame My Ego” broaches territory few songwriters venture into and it is one of Hunter’s more revealing moments on English Poets. The near claustrophobic mix of the track, you can hear Hunter moving his fingers across the strings with vivid clarity, are a crowning touch of this performance.
“The Weeping Man” lowers the curtain on English Poets. It will be clear to any attentive listener Hunter is writing about himself when he refers to the “weeping man” and there is genuine heartache from the beginning to the end of this number. The downcast mood, however, is never a drag on listeners and the ending is in keeping with predominant themes of the album. English Poets is a deeply personal release, but there’s something in each of its dozen songs for listeners to latch onto and you finish listening to this release impressed with Trey Hunter’s commitment for capturing the essence of his life in these songs.