You’ve heard the joke: the greatest songwriter of all time is Anonymous. But songs like Long Black Veil and John Henry didn’t spontaneously appear around a campfire somewhere on the great plains or on an Appalachian mountain trail: somebody actually wrote them. The songs on Hungrytown’s latest album Any Forgotten Thing have that kind of resonance. The duo of Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson have immersed themselves in classic American folk music to the point where they’ve been able to pick up where those regrettably uncredited songsters left off. This effort is rustic, yet in the moment: decades from now, if there’s anyone alive, Hall’s broodingly aphoristic songs will be remembered as the folk music of the early part of the 21st century. Her nonchalantly lilting yet minutely nuanced vocals pack a quiet wallop, as does her casually purist tunesmithing, while Anderson’s elegant mandolin, percussion and harmonies match the subtlety of the songwriting. This isn’t the kind of music you hear at Starbucks although some of it might someday be played in the ruins of one.
The album opens with Year without a Summer, a creepily blithe waltz that makes a great companion piece to the Rasputina classic. “I gave myself up at the age of 13,” Hall sings with a chilling matter-of-factness. We all know what happened to spring in 1816 – and the scariest part is that the rest of this song could easily be true. The next cut, Rolling Train explores a slightly less intense kind of unease: “You are a sleeping town in the middle of the night, and I am a whistle blowing in the morning light,” Hall sings with cheshire cat seriousness – it’s a song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Laura Cantrell songbook. The potently metaphorical Never Realized, a gentle look back in anger and regret is another one that evokes Cantrell, while the title track, a bouncy folk-rock shuffle, makes a great follow-up to John Prine’s Hello In There. Here, Hall’s aging narrator doesn’t see fit to wind the clock on the mantle, although she is eager to replace the doorbell. Touches like that are typical here.
A couple of tracks here are studies in jealousy: Make It All Work Out, which walks the fine line between funny and suicidal, and Sally Lazy, which shares that song’s swirly, psychedelic keyboards but ends on a slightly more optimistic note. Banjo mingling hypnotically with echoey Fender Rhodes piano, Just Like a Song contemplates daily ironies, while Calliope, a phantasmagorical waltz, evokes Judy Henske’s most menacing, trippy late 60s work. As usual, Hall’s metaphors are on a time-delay fuse, whether in Falling Star, where she hopes the meteorite had a soft landing, or in the fatalistic Under a Broken Sun, which (maybe intentionally, maybe not) perfectly and poetically capsulizes life during the early global warming era. The album ends with the gorgeous folk-pop gem Like You Do and The Sweetest Flower, a perfectly lovely (and perfectly bitter) a-cappella duet that sounds straight out of the Appalachians circa 1860. Whether traditional Americana, recent Nashville gothic like the Handsome Family or Mark Sinnis, or the more psychedelic side of 60s folk-rock is your thing, this album is a treat.