Despite his affinity for unabashed and irreverent full-tilt rock ‘n’ roll, Ian Hunter’s always been a rather pensive type of rock star, one who peers at circumstance from the inside out while leaning towards more introspective musings. Before it became popular for musicians to pen their life stories, he published Diary of a Rock Star, one of the first literary narratives describing his career 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 75 (!) this past June, Hunter continues to opt for unrelenting rock ‘n’ roll, celebrating it with sandpapery vocals that evolved from a Dylan-esque delivery early on into a gravelly, weathered rasp. Strings Attached, a double album recorded live in concert with full orchestra and originally released overseas in 2003, serves as an excellent overview of Hunter’s 45 year career and a perfect primer for both the relative novice and any wholly engaged aficionado. Although he manages to accommodate an ample stock of riff-ready songs “One Bitten, Twice Shy,” “All the Way From Memphis,” “All the Young Dudes” and a handful of other Mott standards among them — it’s his equally affecting ballads that take the spotlight here, given the opportunity for lush and appropriate accompaniment. Consequently, “Rest in Peace,” “Waterlaw” and even the aforementioned “Dudes” get swept up in a kind of cinematic grandeur that elevates their presence and brings new import to these superb interpretations.
Ultimately, Strings Attached casts Hunter in the perfect light, demonstrating that for all his rock ‘n’ roll determination, he’s still an artist capable of projecting an essential element of gravitas. In a sense, this set could be considered a milestone. Happily though, Hunter continues to roll on from there.
– Lee Zimmerman