Melodic folk pop with thoughtful lyrics, soaring harmonies and rich, textured production.
Further West is the third album from Hungrytown. Recorded in their home state of Vermont over a two-month period between tours of Europe, North America and New Zealand, it was made possible through a grassroots network of fans that raised over $15,000 in a “Let’s Put Hungrytown On the Map” crowd-funding campaign. Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson, otherwise known as Hungrytown, are joined on this latest recording by long-time collaborator, cellist Suzanne Mueller and celebrated Vermont fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger.
Hall’s lead vocal introduces the album’s title track, a haunting waltz that makes subtle reference to many subsequent songs, all of which suggest progress toward a destination that may not be measurable in miles.
Travel can invite unforeseen, and occasionally tragic, events. “Don't Cross That Mountain,” co-written with fellow Vermont songwriter Gene Morrison, employs a twangy guitar riff and reverb-drenched vocals to tell the true story of a disastrous 19th-century mountain journey.
In “Hard Way to Learn,” a young mother runs away, only to be filled with regret when life fails to meet her expectations: “Tell me how your bright ideal/Measures up to a life so real.” Schneckenburger’s driving fiddle and Anderson’s clawhammer banjo help reflect the desperation imparted in the lyrics.
“Day for Night” ponders our beleaguered, climate-changed landscape and the struggle to get by, set against an American dream mythology about as unconvincing as an old B-movie: “Like day for night, you know it looks wrong/You know it's too bright/Naive, they say/So easily fooled by shadows and light.”
Perhaps the most striking moment occurs midway through the album, when Hungrytown presents Woody Guthrie’s classic dust bowl ballad, “Pastures of Plenty,” as a stark a cappella harmony duet.
There are two odes to night driving, the childlike “Highway Song,” in which familiar objects assume fantastical forms when seen through the window of a car, and “Static,” a noise that symbolizes disconnection: “The radio just crackles, only static, anytime I think of tuning in/I know just how it feels to think you've lost whatever signal you once had.” Mueller’s soulful cello graces the outro, and provides the perfect counterpoint to Anderson’s hypnotic guitar.
Mueller is also responsible for writing one of the most poignant songs on the album, the elegant “Ramparts and Bridges,” which references Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “On Hearing a Symphony of Beethoven.” In this song, Mueller reflects on the power of music to connect people to, or barricade them from, one another.
The album concludes on a note of alienation in “Troubles in Between,” which begins with an evocative solo rendering of “A Child’s Bedtime Prayer,” maintains the theme of escape through sleep and ends with a vocal and cello duet that echoes into the distance.