RECORD REVIEW: Mathis Hunter's 'Countryman'

Talk of ley lines, laying burdens down, and following the light create Hunter's greatest sense of Southern identity yet

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<a href="http://mathishunter.bandcamp.com/album/countryman">Countryman by Mathis Hunter</a>

Mathis Hunter didn’t intend to wait seven years to follow up his debut LP, Soft Opening, but it makes sense. Permeating the physical, spiritual, and religious worlds, the number seven counts not only seas, continents, and days of the week, but also chakras and heavens. If the real, tangible world and the mystical one are both grounded by the same number, then there is no better way to define Hunter’s music. Where Soft Opening only acknowledges the connection in passing, his new record, Countryman, explores these worlds intentionally as a cohesive whole — two sides of the same coin.

The South, where Hunter firmly stakes his claim, is a fitting place for this exploration. Churches, bars, and graveyards dot the landscape in equal amounts — often standing opposite one another on the same street — proving that both the physical world and what lies beyond hold equal sway. Talk of ley lines, laying burdens down, and following the light are scattered throughout the record, giving Countryman Hunter’s greatest sense of place yet. The American South is a weird and complex place that's often at odds with itself, which Hunter understands all too well.

Slide guitars, acoustics, tambourines, Rhodes, pedal steel, and piano are all present on the album's title track, but they’re bought to life by a full band instead of (mostly) Hunter himself, as with Soft Opening. This change helps the record alternate between heavier, full-on Southern rock songs such as "The Swirl" and the quieter, psych-folk country sounds of "Just a Fable." These divergent sounds are perhaps best showcased by heavy, slide-driven opener “Ley Lines” and the quieter, more introspective late album cut “Pendulum.” At seven minutes, this later song is perhaps Hunter’s finest moment to date.

"Night Jar" taps into a Southern sound, too. Where Soft Opening treaded a looser, more psychedelic landscape peppered with slide guitars, hand drums, tambourines, keys and chants, Countryman is direct, focused, and intentional by reflecting the same essential sound. Where the former record sounds something like a warped revival at a primitive church in deep Appalachia, this record takes place at the modern house of worship just on the outskirts of town. Hunter still leads the congregation, but this is a “come as you are” kind of affair. To be clear, there is nothing inherently religious (though perhaps spiritual) about this, but these images work for Hunter's genuinely Southern rock album that refuses to be an empty caricature of the South. ★★★★☆

Mathis Hunter plays the Countryman album release party at the Earl on Sat., March 25. $8. 9 p.m. With Lucis Flux and Lightnin' Ray. 488 Flat Shoals Ave. S.E. 404-522-3950. www.badearl.com.

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