Tracklisting1. Gypsy Into A Carpenter (3:58)
2. All Burned Up (2:44)
3. Westbound Train (4:20)
4. When Am I Gonna Realize (6:56)
5. Time (5:01)
6. The Stars Above And My Heart In Your Hands (2:43)
7. Heart's On Fire (2:37)
8. Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again) (4:53)
9. Goin' Home (2:24)
10. I Still Miss Someone (3:27)
11. Age Old Hunger (3:47)
Christopher Denny Age Old Hunger [00:02:59 Records; 2007] Rating: 7.4
Christopher Denny is off in a world of his own, which some might call Arkansas and others might call country. In promo photos, he sports a soul patch and overalls. On his debut album, Age Old Hunger, he writes songs about westbound trains and hearts on fire and feeling all burned up inside, which he sings in a voice pitched somewhere between the winnowy whine of Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the more forceful yodel of Slim Whitman. His is a distinctive instrument that would sound right at home on a low-signal Ozark radio station 40 or 50 years ago, but sounds out of time and out of place in the here and now-- such that his voice may prove an insurmountable hurtle for many listeners. Denny acknowledges these influences and others: He credits his teenage discovery of Lefty Frizzell and Hank Thompson with inspiring him to write songs, and on Age Old Hunger he covers popular, some might say obvious songs by Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. To his credit, however, he never comes across as a nostalgia act, which for this genre would be excruciating. Rather, he is content to sound like he sounds.
That he can make all these elements work so well-- and on a debut, no less-- is a considerable accomplishment. It helps that his backing band, the Old Soles, aren't afraid to rough his songs up a little. With Denny leading on guitar and harmonica, the rhythm section of Chris Atwood and Marcus Lowe give these songs backbone, while Robbie Crowell adds flourishes of Hammond and barrelhouse piano. They can hold back on a ballad like "The Stars Above and My Heart in Your Hands" or cut loose on romps like the instrumental "Goin' Home" and the ecstatic "Time". They quicken the tempo on Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone", making it slightly more upbeat, but Denny's vocals still sell the misery and loneliness. They take fewer liberties with Kris Kristofferson's "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)": The Old Soles make the song sound like an unmade bed while Denny delivers a gently soulful performance that suggests an intuitive understanding of the lyrics as well as perhaps a very personal history with them.
Little Rock is far enough removed from any other scene-- Memphis is two boring hours down I-40, Dallas and Jackson even further-- that an artist like Denny can flourish in relative solitude, developing his own sounds and styles apart from everyone else. Granted, technology now allows the dissemination of all sorts of music to every corner of the country, including the foothills of the Ozarks, blurring the regional distinctions that once defined Denny's heroes. Nevertheless, he comes across as an industry outsider, not just in the way he sings but even in the way his songwriting makes virtues of southern simplicity and downhome directness.
Denny flirts with misogyny on the evil woman blues "Gypsy Into a Carpenter", whose accusations and condemnations sound jarrring on Age Old Hunger, especially for an album opener. But he quickly rights himself. On "All Burned Up" and "Heart's on Fire", he teases nuance from the pain of romantic uncertainty. "When am I gonna realize I realize I really, truly do care?" he sings on "When Am I Gonna Realize?" "When will I realize love is right here?" "Westbound Train" is a gospel-stoked love song in which Denny tenderly testifies to love's stabilizing power. When the westbound train he and his lover are riding stops near where he once lived, he remarks, "That place don't feel much like home anymore/ Darling, you feel much more like home to me." The song's Dylanesque cadence and straightforward sentiment, like the rest of Age Old Hunger, sound sincere and even daring.
-Stephen M. Deusner, October 05, 2007