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Christopher Denny - Age Old Hunger

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Artist: Christopher Denny

Album: Age Old Hunger

Label: 00:02:59

Review date: Feb. 13, 2008

Christopher Denny's voice is not the sort of thing that's supposed to come out of computer speakers, or an iPod, or, hell, even your 10-year-old CD player. It's a scratchy, 78 kind of voice, a pre-radio voice, the sort of trembly, old-time gospel tenor meant for revival tent meetings and church picnics. The point is that he's 23 and singing like somebody's grandfather. You don't even get the sense, as you sometimes do with Langhorn Slim, that it's an affectation. He has simply dropped out of time and into your stereo, decades or maybe even a century out of sync, but completely authentic and true to himself.

Denny is from Little Rock, Arkansas, a guitar player since early adolescence, a songwriter since chancing on a great uncle's collection of old Lefty Frizzel and Hank Thompson records at 17. He wrote "Time," one of the best of the 11 songs on this debut album, shortly after discovering his pre-industrial Americana niche. Like Neil Young's "Old Man," it is a young person's consideration of mortality and obsolescence. The song swings along with an unabashed sunniness, as Denny considers the many possible lives open to a teenager, and the very distant end of all of them. "Oh, it's time, time, time / Ain't it funny how it controls my life / You see, I might not ever have to die / If it weren’t for time," he trills, voice swinging wide into the vibrato-laced notes. It's almost disconcerting, this mix of youthful enthusiasm and nostalgia. Is Denny really 23, as the album notes say, or 75 as his antique musical style suggests? A little of both. A bit of neither.

Denny's songs are focused around his unusual voice, but they are fleshed out nicely with traditional instruments: guitar, stand-up bass, harmonica, organ, drums and (on one song) saxophone. The rowdier songs – "All Burned Up" and "Hearts on Fire" – sound most modern, riding electrified sounds and shrill trilling organ to someplace between gospel and Stax-ish grooves. The two covers, Kris Kristofferson's "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I've Ever Done)" and Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" seem a little flat by contrast. These two writers are obviously big influences on Denny, and it may be that he approaches their songs a little too reverently to make them work.

Denny saves the title track for last, and it's a good one, marrying the thoughtful quietude of his slower songs with the strident energy of the rockers. "I sold myself out / and I didn't get nothing in return," he begins, and a single sustained electric bass note cuts through his old-time folk voice. It's rock, it's gospel, it's right now and it's from sometime long ago, all at once. Most of all, it's full of passion and the "age old hunger" that Denny has been moved to sing about. He may be an anachronism, this guy, but he's for real about it.

By Jennifer Kelly

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