Mr. Hunter – The First Chapter and The Course of Empire – Review

The first installment of the weekly Art of Liberty series.

What do you get when you combine passionate music, thoughtful lyrics, a beautiful voice, a series of paintings from the early 1800s, Austrian Economics, a bit of jazz, bluegrass, classical music, and a dog on a piano mat?

You get the inspiring music of Mr. Hunter.

I hadn’t heard of Mr. Hunter until looking through the list of events a couple weeks before the Free State Project‘s annual event, PorcFest 2012. Being always on the lookout for new, interesting music, especially with philosophies that are in tune with my own, I hunted down their website and listened to few samples of their music. Liking what I heard, I jumped over to CD Baby to grab their entire first album, The First Chapter Each time I listened I liked the album more, and I grew more excited about seeing them play live.

I was especially excited to hear the premier of their new album, The Course of Empire, which is based on series of paintings of the same name, created by Thomas Cole in the early 1800s. The premier of The Course of Empire did not disappoint. I was blown away by the not only the theme of the album, but also the lyrics, and the musicianship.

Mr. Hunter features Chris Marcus as creator, writer, and guitarist, and Kara Ayn Napolitano on vocals. They are backed by Jason Yaeger (piano and organ), David Lowenthal (bass), and Rossen Nedelchev (drums). Their sound doesn’t fit into a standard box. Their music is a combination of jazz, rock, improv, with an occasional splash of classical and bluegrass – so far. The music and the rhythms are intricate and constantly changing. The piano and guitar continuously trade off prominence, creating a growing energy and feeling of lightness and hope, topped off by Chris’ guitar solos which build with a steadily rolling, forward driving power.

Kara Ayn’s voice on the albums is crisp and clear, with an understated strength, which really came out in the live show. Mr. Hunter’s sound is not too loud, but it’s not too soft either. It has a power and intensity that comes from the structure of the music, the meaning of the lyrics, and the vocal delivery of the songs. The music lacks the distortion and over-engineering that masquerades as power in a lot of today’s music.

The First Chapter

The First Chapter is an introspective album, centered around one person’s search for freedom, growth, and meaning.

The summary of the album on its back cover says it better than I could paraphrase:

The First Chapter is a story about life, nature, dreams, and following what you believe in. The music is a narrative of the journey of life, the choices we are faced with, and how we choose to respond.

What is right and what is wrong. What is real and what is imagined. Dreaming or awake. Alive or only existing. Would it be better to be blissfully delusional in a rational world or clearheaded in a fantasy that doesn’t exist. There is or isn’t an answer to all of these questions but if we choose to continue to search after the things we love we might find them as well as ourselves.

Two of the songs in particular stand out for me. The Corner, which best highlights their sound and style, is by far my favorite.

The Corner starts with a hint of the guitar solo at the beginning, the solo pops back into the song and drops out throughout the vocal, until finally taking off for a long, soaring ride. Kara Ayn’s voice fits the song beautifully, starting out in a lower, more powerful range. Underlayed by a fantastic groove, I just close my eyes and fly away as the song builds. When the song’s done, I feel like I can do anything.

My second favorite on this album, Morse Code on the other hand departs completely from the rest of the album musically, but fits in the context of the story. Best described as electronic bluegrass, it’s a high speed, fun song that’s a spirited nod to guitarist Steve Morse.

Lyrically, The First Chapter consists of straight-forward, honest personal observations about growth, change, and personal discovery. A few of my favorite lyrical bits are

  • from WelcomeEven if I fail, I’ll grow, It’s finally time to start my show
  • from I BelieveHe had a talent that was matched by few. All he needed to hear was I believe in you
  • from The Stranger– a few notes about forgiveness and kindness, attributes overlooked at times when discussing liberty
    • Let go of our anger allow it to end
    • Are we helping each other or is it a crime, to give to a stranger some of your time, no one will force you if you’re not inclined, as long as you realize it’s ok to be kind

One final note, I’ve always loved album liner notes and lyrics. Unfortunately many bands have gotten away from liner notes, and with the move to electronically delivery of music, in most cases they have disappeared completed, which I find to be a loss. The liner notes in the physical CD for The First Chapter are excellent, including full lyrics, plus vibrant and meaningful images that tie in with the theme and message of each song.

The First Chapter is worth a few listens, the first couple of times I wasn’t blown away. With each subsequent listen I found more to like about the album. I’ve found, for me, this is a mark of albums that having staying power.

The Course of Empire

The inspiration for The Course of Empire album comes from a series of five early 1800s painting by Thomas Cole. The album is an ambitious attempt to take the paintings’ theme of the rise and fall of empires and translate it into an album- length symphony.

Chris Marcus and Mr. Hunter were up to the challenge and created an inspiring and moving range of pieces that fits the stages of the paintings beautifully. The music, like their first album, is full of nicely woven, intricate threads and changes paralleling the overall story.

Lyrically, The Course of Empire, is a tremendous leap up from The First Chapter. The album has a very strong undercurrent of Austrian Economics, touching on topics from production to free trade, debt and taxes. How many songs have you heard that include name Maynard Keynes in their lyrics- and actually make it work?

I’ve highlighted my impressions below and some of my favorite lines, but to truly appreciate The Course of Empire, I would recommend leaning back in your favorite chair, putting on a set of headphones and listening to the album beginning to end, without interruption – a couple of times.

Here’s the entire first performance of The Course of Empire from PorcFest 2012:

The Savage State starts with a tribal drum beat, slowly building towards an upbeat and positive tone and theme of liberty. The music says ‘I am free’. The song is a wonderful summary of a philosophy of liberty – combining economics, work, love, honesty, non-agression, hope.

I will grow and I’ll learn, I’ll produce and I’ll earn, I will bid my time and wait for my turn and I’ll be free

I will search and explore I will open new doors, if I act in good faith I will afford more and I’ll be me

I’ll be fair when I deal, I will trade but not steal, work hard and I’ll prove that I earn every meal and I will see

That the greed of mind and the love of my heart can agree

Add in an excellent keyboard solo and a prescient quote from Benjamin Franklin and The Savage State is a stirring start to this symphony.

In Arcadia, growth and production never sounded so sexy, as sung about by Miss Kara Ayn.

Shared values and goals that united this clan that each man would earn and produce as he can

Creators and thinkers were encouraged in this way, their standard of life seemed to increase most everyday

Their great reward was freedom to do as they may, and the fortune of their land was held high on display

The land of Arcadia was the model of its time, a fountain of freedom, their needs were aligned

Where liberty reigned for society in it’s prime, they cared for their weak, tired, and poor by design

Arcadia was known as the utopia of its time, a wondrous pasture with virtues divine

While short of perfect the sun often shined on the life of a miracle that came to exist on prudence divine,

But the greatest of the land was about to embark on the greatest of times

Consummation of Empire is introduced by the beating of military drums. The Empire has begun. More smooth flowing guitar work and vocal, but trouble is brewing, including crippling taxes, debt and war.

After years of free living, and some unforced giving

At the first sign of trouble seems we lost our religion

We had it all working with the bright future lurking

Until we acquainted a Maynard Keynes

As the fountain started flowing, while the lies started growing

Was the people’s heart and money that the leaders kept a blowing

Once they gave up paying and the just started owing,

They knew it couldn’t last

Politicians were inducted, to the temples they constructed

The money that they wasted, always seemingly deducted

Though they knew very little of the others they instructed

And it rarely saved the day

Destruction is marked by the sad, lament of a piano, a nod to Atlas Shrugged, and fear for our children

We left the bill for all our children here, the helpless boys and girls

We left behind a world full of fear and peril

We left their hopes and dreams to twist and swirl

We should have tried to put the fire out

Desolation is haunted by a weeping piano, crying guitar, and echo of martial drums

God created in nature certain laws to obey,

Compassion, forgiveness, for that we now pray

 – and –

In the end was it worth it

Seems nobody won

We enslaved our producers with the force of our guns

And we passed the bill forward to our daughters and sons

When I think of what happened I can’t believe what we’ve done

All ending in a hopeful, somewhat encouraging guitar solo.

Unfortunately, there are no lyrics in the liner notes, however they were replaced by copies the Thomas Cole paintings. Kara Ayn’s singing is so clear, there shouldn’t be any problem learning what’s being said.

If you’re a fan of themed albums, you’re in for a treat with both Mr. Hunter albums.  The songs have a consistent theme, a common purpose and merge to tell a story. If you’re searching for intelligent, uplifting music, if you’re looking for a unique blend of jazz and rock, get their albums now.

These are two albums with contrasting focuses but a common theme. The First Chapter is about the journey of a single person. The Course of Empire‘s scope is of an entire civilization. Both share a vision of the pursuit of life as an adventure, a productive journey of love and purpose.

Mr. Hunter Live

Mr. Hunter is a putting together a Fall 2012 Tour, with dates on the West Coast, including Libertopia 2012, as well as New England, hopefully including New Hampshire. If you get a chance to see them, don’t miss it.

In the meantime, listen to more music, learn more, buy the album, and signup for their newsletter to keep up to date at MrHunterBand.com.

Mr. Hunter: The First Chapter

 

Oh, about the dog – Mr. Hunter is named after Chris’ dog, Mr. Hunter 🙂

 

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