Album Reviews

Steve Hunter

Before the Lights Go Out

Artist:     Steve Hunter

Album:     Before the Lights Go Out

Label:     Deacon Records

Release Date:     09/25/2017

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Steve Hunter’s name might not be instantly recognizable, but the sound of his guitar is familiar to anyone raised on ‘70s rock. Whatever you might have thought of Alice Cooper’s brand of theater, it was Hunter’s guitar that made the music work for listeners not drawn to boa constrictors and guillotines. And for those who don’t know (clearly not the case for Elmore readers), Hunter wrote and played, with Dick Wagner, the intro to Lou Reed’s live “Sweet Jane” on Rock n Roll Animal. Enough said.

Known among guitar aficionados as “the Deacon”—the title of his 1989 solo album—Hunter sadly suffers from pigmentary glaucoma, rendering him legally blind. Although playing live has become nearly impossible, he has enjoyed a remarkably creative period in the studio, releasing more original music over the past decade than at any time in his 45-year career. Hunter makes it clear that his latest effort, despite the irony of the title, Before the Lights Go Out, is not intended as a swan song. “This album was a real joy for me on many levels,” he says.

The opening track, “On the Edge of Uncertainty,” has an ominous feel suitable for the soundtrack of a dystopian Western. Fellow guitar ace and good friend Joe Satriani adds his weight on “Mojo Man”—not surprisingly, the album’s hardest-rocking cut. Things settle down from there with the slow-jamming “Summer’s Eve,” one of the album’s most memorable tracks, and the acoustic wizardry of “Cinderblock.”

Whether electric or acoustic, Hunter, like all great musicians, makes every note count. There’s a crispness to his sound, like listening to vinyl records on high-quality audio equipment. Rather than relying on speed, Hunter’ playing is so clean that every note stands out. He wouldn’t have bothered playing it if he didn’t intend for it to be heard.

Occasional sound effects find their way into the compositions, from the roar of an engine to the prayerful chanting leading into “Under the Bodhi Tree” and Hunter’s own beating heart on “Tienes Mi Corazon,” dedicated to his wife, singer-songwriter Karen Hunter. Karen provides the album’s only vocal, a short cover of Dale Evans’s “Happy Trails.” It’s an odd choice for the closing track, the bittersweetness of her “until we meet again” leaving listeners wondering if there’s a message here, a subtle signing off or Hunter letting everyone know he’ll be back.

With the notable exception of Jeff Beck, instrumental rock guitar is a difficult genre for listeners accustomed to power chords and rhyming lyrics, but Steve Hunter is one of a rare breed capable of pulling it off. Fans of the Deacon will enjoy When the Lights Go Out as a document of where his playing has taken him. For those not familiar with Hunter’s virtuosity, it’s never too late to discover what all the fuss is about.

— Lou Montesano

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