Beloved Columbus expats Huntertones made their name, both here and in their new home of NYC, with house-rocking live shows. Given that, it’s no surprise that their second album, Live, recorded on two tour stops in their home state, Columbus’ own Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza and Akron’s Blu Jazz+, is their finest recorded moment and the best summation of where this band is.
The fat riff is the primary building block of Huntertones’ best pieces. The opening notes Dan White’s “Anvil” kick off this collection of ear-worms like a fanfare. It sets the tone for the record’s road-tested arrangements. Balancing concise solos that have the spontaneity and childlike feel of play with razor-cut funk band quality that subsumes everything to the deep groove and the riff. Trumpeter Jon Lampley’s “Sweatin'” has a melodic line that cries out for singing. The spine of its riff gives the players ample room to bounce off – including a righteous keys solo by Theron Brown and a simmering drum break by John Hubbell. White’s “Hot Sauce Williams,” a tune I’ve had a fondness for since the first time I heard it, and whose namesake Cleveland soul food restaurant this writer’s a big fan of, gets its definitive reading here. The natural swing of the rhythm section throws the horns passing that riff back and forth between them into perfect relief. Lampley’s soloing, a highlight throughout Live, has a conversational quality that feels like a crowded restaurant on a beautiful Sunday afternoon but distilled to the 180-proof essence of that – what we’re all trying to say, keeping distinct rhythms but never meandering.
They wisely keep the covers to a tight, well-chosen third of the tracklist. “Camptown Races,” in an arrangement by trombone player Chris Ott takes Stephen Foster’s lush melody, atomizes and puts it back together. Harmonies from the melodic front-line bring it to a boil as organic solos bubble out, including a beautifully greasy guitar from Joshua Hill and a luminous cry from Ott. A medley of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and Dave Matthews’ “Two-Step” arranged by White has a moody tension the band sends rippling out over the audience, accentuating the beautiful melody of the former with gorgeous harmonies from the horns. Hill’s supple guitar melts into White’s tenor as the first song changes to the second, with the rhythm section keeping that sexy tension locked in. When the rest of the band returns after those two solos on that medley, it sounds like they’re raining down gold in a thrilling, spiritual closer.
From that horn trill that opens “Anvil” to the country-tinged funk jubilation of Ott’s “Looking Back,” Live is a party record to be reckoned with. A snapshot of a band out of its chrysalis stage and spreading wings as it ascends to another level.
Live is released on September 30, 2016. Pre-sale is currently up on Itunes. Videos for the trailer and “Anvil” are below.