Kelly Hunt
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Kelly Hunt sings with the lilting cadence of a folksinger born somewhere far away, sometime long ago.
— ROBERT CRAWFORD [ROLLING STONE COUNTRY]
Exceptionally good. The wistful soulful voice, the mellowness of the vintage calfskin tenor banjo, the frugality of the arrangements all combine to produce an album that is near perfect.”

“Standing shoulder to shoulder with contemporaries like Gillian Welch and Rhiannon Giddens...folk music harking back to the stripped-down sounds of Leadbelly, Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie.”

“There’s so much to discover here it’s pointless trying to convey it all in a short review. A joy from start to finish. Just go listen.
— John Vaites [AMERICANA UK]
Folk wonderment...her music is aged beyond her years.
— JP'S MUSIC BLOG
As impressive as Hunt’s playing is her voice, recalling everyone from Dolly Parton to Norah Jones, but at the end of the day it’s pure Kelly Hunt. This is a most auspicious debut. From beginning to end there is reason to revel and rejoice. Banjo playing has never felt more refreshing and alive untied from the instruments traditional stylistic tendencies. Kelly Hunt creates a new tradition because her playing isn’t informed by any stylistic tendencies. ‘Even The Sparrow’ commands your attention, suggesting what we’ve heard is just the beginning.
— Bob Fish [For Folk's Sake]
A complete package that stands out by being true to itself.
— Stephen Rapid [Lonesome Highway]
‘Even the Sparrow’ sounds to me like the kind of record that critics and devotees of this genre might make a small storm about...over the course of its twelve tracks it casts and re-casts its spell again and again and by the time the record has run its course its still but unerring is hard to shake. It’s utterly heartfelt and immediately authentic. A quiet but powerful album, that understands the power of the silence between the notes.
— It Starts with a birthstone blog
If you’re someone who thinks that all banjo focused music sounds the same, well, you haven’t heard Kelly Hunt, then. Not only is her voice unpredictable, it often changes in tone and is susceptible to gorgeous manipulation, and her depression era 2nd hand banjo emits a sound not quite like any other stringed instrument, making ‘Even The Sparrow’ a brilliant, mesmerizing experience.
— Tom Haugen [TAKE EFFECT]
These songs and the lives they illuminate feel lived-in, inhabited by real folks…something tells me we’ll be hearing from her for a long time to come.
— The Green Man Review
We strongly suggest you really should keep your eye on this sparrow.
— Mike Davies [Folk Radio UK]
‘Even The Sparrow’ displays Hunt’s penchant for masterful storytelling and engaging arrangement, as researched and complex as they are memorable, punctuated by her articulate melodies and a well-enunciated and creative command of lyrical delivery infused with deft emotional communication.
— The Big Takeover
[In] her stunning debut album, ‘Even the Sparrow...’ Hunt applies her haunting voice and evocative banjo playing to songs that build on the work of contemporary masters like Gillian Welch. Hunt is a vital young voice who promises to continue providing solace and inspiration for decades.
— BILL BROWNLEE [THE KANSAS CITY STAR]
Whether it’s pulling listeners through one of the most painful — and normal — stories of lost love imaginable on the haunting ‘Across the Great Divide,’ or leading a gospel blowout like ‘Gloryland,’ Hunt’s voice draws in fans just as much as her banjo.
— Mike WARREN [KCUR]
...the combination of Hunt’s exceptional voice and exquisitely spare instrumentation is stunning. ‘Even the Sparrow’ will likely be my favorite non-jazz album of the year by a Kansas City musician.
— BILL BROWNLEE [THERE STANDS THE GLASS BLOG]

BIO

On the walls of any local used music shop there hangs a gallery of mysteries. Picked up and handed down across the decades, each instrument contains the imprints and stories of those who have played it before, most of which remain untold. For Kansas City-based songwriter Kelly Hunt the most intriguing of these stories is the origin of her anonymous calfskin tenor banjo. “I really wasn’t looking for it,” she says, “but I opened up the case and it said ‘This banjo was played by a man named Ira Tamm in his dog and pony show from 1920 to 1935.’ I strummed it and said ‘This is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.’ People often think of the banjo as being rather brash and tinny - loud and kind of grating - but this was so warm and mellow, with an almost harp-like quality to it, very soulful” – apt words for the Memphis native’s debut album, Even The Sparrow, coming out May 17 on Rare Bird Records.

The daughter of an opera singer and a saxophonist, Kelly Hunt was raised in Memphis, TN, and grew up performing other people’s works through piano lessons, singing in choirs, and performing theater. “It was a very creative, artistic household,” says Hunt. During her teenage years, influenced by musical inspirations as diverse as Norah Jones, Rachmaninov, and John Denver, she began writing her own songs on the piano as a creative outlet. After being introduced to the banjo in college while studying French and visual arts, Hunt began to develop her own improvised style of playing, combining old-time picking styles with the percussive origins of the instrument. “I’m self-taught, I just started letting the songs dictate what needed to be there,” she says. “I heard a rhythm in a song that I wanted to execute, so I figured out how to do it on the drum head while still being able to articulate certain notes in one motion.” After college, Hunt followed a rambling path that took her through careers in acting, graphic design, traditional French breadmaking, and medicine, all the while making music as a private endeavor. “I wanted to get serious about a responsible career choice, but music kept bubbling up. I was writing a lot and playing a lot and started to not be satisfied just playing to my walls of my room.”

After moving to Kansas City and discovering her mysterious Depression-era tenor banjo, Hunt began recording Even The Sparrow in Kansas City alongside collaborator Stas’ Heaney and engineer Kelly Werts. “It took almost two years to record,” she says, “learning how to let the songs dictate the production.” Having finally come to light, the album displays Hunt’s penchant for masterful storytelling and intriguing arrangement, as researched and complex as they are memorable, punctuated by her articulate melodies and a well-enunciated and creative command of lyrical delivery infused with deft emotional communication. While reminiscent of modern traditionalists such as Gillian Welch–a number of her songs even borrow titles and phrasing from traditional American music (“Back to Dixie,” “Gloryland”)–Even The Sparrow reveals an ineffable quality that hovers beyond the constraints of genre, à la Anais Mitchell and Patty Griffin. In “The Men of Blue & Grey,” what begins as a Reconstruction-era ballad about the repurposing of Civil War glass plate negatives in a greenhouse roof soon becomes a meditation on the hope that growth and life may one day be able to emerge from the ruins of suffering and haunting of violence. “Across The Great Divide” turns an otherwise traditional accounting of spurned love into a philosophical epic of the ethics of forgiveness and freedom, evoking the ideas of Søren Kierkegaard and Walt Whitman.

As for the original owner of Kelly Hunt’s mysterious tenor banjo, not much is known. “I’ve never been able to find anything about Ira Tamm,” she says, “I think he just had a humble little traveling show.” What’s clear is that the itinerant performer laid down his banjo at the height of the Great Depression, almost eighty years before it would be picked up by Hunt. “That banjo has stories. I wish I knew them all,” says Hunt, though the banjo’s most intriguing story may just be beginning with Even The Sparrow. “The marks of Ira’s hands are still in the calfskin head, so I can see where he played and left his mark,” she says. “Now my own hand marks are there too, in different places, like a kind of portrait.”

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