By Shaun T Hunter
Shaun T Hunter may not be a name familiar to a great many people in Leeds, but whilst other artists' rise has been meteoric, Shaun T Hunter has quietly been plugging away crafting charming albums of simplicity and understatement.
The one-man-and-a-guitar market is nothing if not oversubscribed and therefore standing out from the crowd of decent if unspectacular songwriters is never going to be easy. If we take talent as given, one gets the feeling that this is only ever likely to be achieved by a combination of hard work, dogged determination and that little extra je ne sais quai. Whatever that might be.
Hard work is certainly not an issue for Hunter. Flying Without Falling is Hunter's third full-length album in as many years.
Neither is determination. Flying Without Falling emerges from a period of immense personal tragedy for Hunter. The recording and production coincided with the sad death of the Hunters' son and during the final stages of production his Uncle - who had raised him - also passed away.
To have produced any kind of work in the face of such adversity is an incredible achievement, but to have emerged from such events with a record so mesmerisingly beautiful and so richly steeped in genuine emotion, yet one that still manages to sound uplifting and positive is nothing short of miraculous.
So what of that extra factor?
One of the most impressive things about this album is how honest and sincere it is. It is totally unconcerned with what people might think of it, it just pours out its heart and lays itself open for people to make what they will of it. It is bereft of stylisation, the songs are radio-incompatibly long and Carl Stipetic's production is masterfully understated and sensitive.
Then there are the lyrics. Neither big nor clever, they tell of simple things such as love and loss and all the various points in between in refreshingly uncomplicated ways and engage directly with the audience. Much like every factor on this album this seems far from calculated, it just seems that this is how Shaun is naturally and thus the purity of the sentiments have an automatic connection to this listener.
Technically speaking there are many better lyricists than Shaun T Hunter, but you'll be hard pressed to find one as naturally able to tap directly into the listener and make every word sound like its directed at you and you only. The end result is an album that pulls off that rare trick of emotionally engaging the casual listener.
As such, this is about as far away from dinner-party music as its possible to get. This is music to listen to on your own, whenever you're feeling fragile, safe in the knowledge that you're in good hands. It'll make you cry, it'll make you smile and it'll give you hope. Above all it will move you.
A song-by-song dissection of this album is fairly pointless as this is an album not about the cleverness of a chord change or the quirkiness of a lyric or the riding of a particular Zeitgeist. It's about the effect of the whole.
This is an old fashioned album, crafted by an old fashioned singer/songwriter and an old fashioned producer who share old fashioned values and know how to tell an old fashioned story better than most people you will ever hear. As such, albums don't get much less fashionable than this. Hell, it even has a song that sounds just like Always by Atlantic Starr, but it doesn't seem to matter.
It may not win you many cool points sitting on your shelf, but whether you're into hip-hop, metal, indie, punk or whatever, this should be the 'other' album that everyone should own for those quiet moments of introspection before normal service resumes again. A sublimely beautiful album and a profoundly moving experience. Timeless.