Album Review: Kelly Hunt, ‘Ozark Symphony’

Kelly Hunt weaves an enchanting spell with her atmospheric music, and on her new album she transports listeners from the craggy solitude and shadowy hollers of the Ozarks to the swinging streets of Memphis.

Strumming percussively on her five-string banjo and creating swelling rolls of sound, Hunt builds an elegant symphonic sound on these songs, with the help of an array of musicians including Natalie Haas on cello, multi-instrumentalist virtuoso Mike McGoldrick on Irish flute and Uilleann pipes, Kai Welch on trumpet and accordion, and producer Dirk Powell on guitar.

Cascading banjo rolls and dashing violin and cello strains swirl around one another on the title track of Ozark Symphony, creating a haunting space for Hunt’s ethereal vocals. The minor chord ballad captures the deep emotional hold that place has on us and the longing we feel for the people who shape our yearning for a certain place.

Spry banjo plucking and bright fiddling animate the lively “You Make Me High,” a celebration of the exquisite buoyancy of love and its ability to lift us higher and higher the more bound we are to a lover. The cinematic “On the Bayou” calls on Evangeline—the Acadian woman looking for her long-lost love celebrated in folktales and song—as a muse to help the singer meditate on her own search for love. And there’s more about that famous lady, too. In the hauntingly spare ballad “Evangeline,” Hunt’s mesmerizing banjo rolls flow beneath her operatic retelling of the folktale of a woman who gives up everything to follow her lover only to lose him and have to search continually for him. Rachel Sermanni joins Hunt on vocals, and the duo’s crystalline vocals evoke the emotional desolation of Evangeline’s mourning.

“What About Now?” rides along a snaking, Delta blues vibe, with Hunt’s vocals matching the notes of the guitar, while “Take Me Back to Memphis,” with its rolling piano and blaring trumpet, scoots down Beale Street with a jaunty energy. The album closes with the stunning gospel-inflected a cappella “Over the Mountain,” on which Sermanni and Amelia Powell join Hunt on harmony vocals.

Ozark Symphony lives up to its title, creating a wave of sound that swells with Hunt’s operatic vocals. The album’s symphonic register soothes even as it invites us to reflect on the sometimes ragged edges of intimacy, yearning, and love. Hunt’s vocals draw us in like a siren calling from rough seas, asking us not to dash ourselves on the rocks but to find shelter in her soothing tones.


Ozark Symphony is available HERE


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