The banner on Phoebe Hunt’s website reads, “Mystical Indie Folk – Inner Soul Exploration,” which is accurate in one sense, but misleading in others. There’s definitely a spiritual aspect to her story. Her parents met at a yoga ashram in the ’70s and named her Shanti (a Hindi word for peace) Phoebe Hunt. As an adult, she’s spent time in India at a meditation retreat and as a pupil of a violin master.
Still, don’t expect fuzzy cosmic platitudes. Neither One of Us Is Wrong, the pandemic-delayed follow-up to 2017’s Shanti’s Shadow, presents a vivid series of vignettes drawn from relatable real-life conflicts, executed by a standout band that can soar like an ace bluegrass outfit or swing with the perceptive interaction of a virtuoso jazz band. The flavorful blend of Hunt’s graceful violin, the delicate mandolin of her spouse, Dominick Leslie, and Roy Williams’ vibrant acoustic guitar is a thorough delight, however weighty the subject matter.
After the Kate Bush-like dreaminess of the opening track, “Some Things Change,” Hunt reveals herself as a commanding, down-to-earth vocalist, tender yet confident, gentle yet determined, with a yearning mountain twang perfect for high lonesome harmonies. Writing or co-writing every song, she ranges from intimate tales to social justice observations, with clear-eyed honesty setting the tone.
Hunt brings a therapist’s instincts to her accounts of interpersonal stress, discarding the concept of winners and losers to pursue solutions that allow both parties to thrive. The rollicking “Good Blood” strives to mend fences with a close friend, though she quickly adds, “But I won’t beg and I won’t plead.” On the mournful title track, Hunt watches a lover drift away, sighing, “You send me a love letter / And then suddenly I’ve sinned,” and adding, “No part of my existence / Could ever ask of you to stay,” accepting that life equals perpetual change and often entails pain, an idea she revisits throughout Neither One of Us Is Wrong.
Looking at the bigger picture, a hopeful Hunt hails systemic progress in the exuberant “Marching On,” dismissing the old order as she exclaims, “You’ve been ruling for so long it’s clear you don’t know right from wrong.” She strikes a rare note of direct confrontation, rejecting “the constant pounding lie / That every man can be a king / And it won’t cost us anything.” If it’s hard to imagine this innately civilized soul storming the barricades, her ire is obvious anyway.
At her most compelling, Hunt crafts breathtaking ballads with heartrending melodies reminiscent of Merle Haggard’s soulful best. Wrapped in shimmering old-time piano, “Silent Prayer” counters despair with deep devotion, and the majestic “Take My Love” makes vulnerability seem like a risk worth taking, albeit without promising a happy outcome.
Such quiet, unassuming bravery adds a heady dimension to this subtly intoxicating album. While Phoebe Hunt and her gifted bandmates can play up a storm, Neither One of Us Is Wrong goes far deeper than simply showcasing stellar musicianship. And that is pretty cosmic indeed.