CD Review of Man Overboard by Ian Hunter
Ian Hunter: Man Overboard
Recommended if you like
Faces, Bob Dylan, John Waite
New West
Ian Hunter:
Man Overboard

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

espite his undeniable affinity for unabashed and irreverent full-tilt rock ‘n’ roll, Ian Hunter’s always been a rather circumspect musician, one who muses about circumstance from a more thoughtful point of view. Before it became popular for rockers to pen their autobiographies, he published Diary of a Rock Star, one of the first literary narratives describing life as a musical vagabond. Even while at the helm of Mott the Hoople, Hunter balanced his edgier inclinations with ballads of gentle repose, endowing songs such as "Angel of Eighth Avenue" and "Wrong Side of the River" with a naked vulnerability that defied the strutting posture and pompous attitudes of his contemporaries.

No wonder, then, that having just turned 70 (!), Hunter continues to opt for reflection, voicing it with an aching sandpapery vocal that’s shifted from its uncanny early similarity to Dylan to a gravelly soulful croon that would otherwise make him a dead ringer for the younger, pre-MOR Rod Stewart. In fact, those pinning for Rod’s return to form (along with that rumored Faces reunion) would be well advised to sample Overboard, Hunter’s most consistent effort yet and a song-perfect collection that spotlights him in the guise of a tattered troubadour. There’s not a number here that doesn’t have an irrepressible hook, and yet Hunter’s ramshackle style evokes a loose, unfettered approach that affirms commitment at every turn. That’s especially true of songs such as "The Great Escape," "Up and Running," and "Babylon Blues," feisty, straight-on rave-ups that convey a genial unpretentious attitude and a decidedly loose groove. And even at his age, he’s still a frisky sort: "Girl from the Office" may come across as a genial sing-along, but its lascivious intents are all too clear. Hunter still harbors a young man’s resolve, but that cavalier spirit springs more from confidence than cockiness.

Indeed, where some of his generation struck a detached poise – think Mick & Keith and Bowie as prime examples – Hunter’s never been afraid to step down from his pedestal and share his insecurities. Appropriately, then, "These Feelings" takes a thoughtful turn, with the title track following suit, as Hunter casts himself as a soul lost at sea and pinning for salvation. Grace and dignity go hand in hand with passion – a rare combination, but one befitting Hunter’s stature as an elder statesman who’s reached the point of being both vital and venerable.

Hunter has a full slate of activity ahead of him in the coming months, not the least of which is a Mott reunion scheduled to take place later this year. But while backwards glances may befit him, Man Overboard finds him facing forward on steady footing.

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