Album Review

Christina Alden and Alex Patterson – Hunter: Album Review

Hunter plays out some delightful reflections on our relationship with the natural world.

Release Date:  7th May 2021

Label: Self Release

Formats: CD / DL

Repeatedly, over the past nine months or so, I’ve been coming across musicians who, despite having their lives turned upside down and their means of earning a living pulled from beneath their feet, have used the time forced upon them by the COVID pandemic to create some fantastic music.  This time, it’s the turn of Norwich-based duo Christina Alden and Alex Patterson to demonstrate what they’ve been up to, with their delightful new album, Hunter.

Before the pandemic struck, Christina and Alex were looking forward to a full diary of concerts, booked throughout the UK and Europe, but all their expectations crumbled to dust as COVID and lockdown took hold.  Instead, they focused their energies upon the creation of new music.  Hunter was conceived, written, developed and recorded during the bleak pandemic months and it’s a work of great beauty. 

Also performing as two-thirds of the trio Alden, Patterson and Dashwood, Christina Alden and Alex Patterson are a pair of talented songwriters and multi-instrumentalists.  They both come from musical families – garland dancing and group singalongs were regular features of their upbringing – and share a deep love and concern for the natural environment and the impact that we, the human race, have upon it.  Their songs reflect that love and concern, with lyrics that explore a myriad of issues. Hunter includes songs on such diverse subjects as a relationship between a wolf and a brown bear in Finland’s northern forests, the power of the sea, the changing migration habits of the Arctic fox, the devastation of the countryside and the changing environment, as witnessed by the Greenland Shark, believed to be the planet’s longest-living vertebrate.

There are also songs and tunes that reflect upon the trepidation and cautious optimism felt at the turn of the last new year and the expectations and uncertainty felt by anyone who chooses to migrate to a new country, with a trad song and a couple of enjoyable dance tunes thrown in for good measure.  The songs are all delivered with passion and belief but without any cloying sentiment. The light-touch instrumentation leaves lots of room for the stories to be told by Christina’s beautiful, clear voice.  They all have a strong traditional feel, particularly when Alex adds his fiddle playing to the mix, usually as a bridge between verses.  Hunter is, indeed, a delightful album; intimate, accessible and tuneful – perfect for an evening of reflection, aided, if possible, by a nice bottle of red wine (which is how I’ll be listening to it later…)

Hunter was recorded at the duo’s home in Norwich, and produced with a wonderful intimacy.  Christina takes the lead vocal role and plays guitar and banjo; Alex adds backing vocals and contributes viola, cello, tenor guitar, shruti box and some absolutely marvelous fiddle playing.  Indeed, there are several moments, particularly during his solo in Land Corridors, where Alex would give even the great Swarbrick himself a run for his money in terms of sheer feeling and passion.

Every single song is beautifully structured and each one tells a fascinating, thought-provoking story, and the background to each song is thoughtfully laid out in the CD’s informative booklet.  It’s here that we learn that the title track is inspired by the work of  Finnish photographer Lassi Rautianen and relates the story of that unusual inter-species friendship between wolf and bear.  It’s also here that the background story of Indonesian lamplighter Aldi Novel Adilang is told – how he was swept out to sea when a storm knocked his floating wooden hut from its mooring and spent 49 days adrift in the ocean before being rescued.  I think you’re starting to get the picture of what this album is all about.

It seems almost churlish to try and pick out some high points from this uniformly excellent album, but I’ll have a go…  New Year Waltz is a lovely Scottish flavoured instrumental that somehow manages to capture and bottle the conflicting emotions of uncertainty and hope we all felt as 2020 morphed into 2021 in the midst of lockdown, My Flower, My Companion and Me is the album’s only traditional number – a song that came the way of Christina and Alex by a circuitous route – delivered to an unfussy guitar/banjo backing with some wonderful harmony singing and The Fox Song tells an intriguing tale of a tracked Arctic fox that, amazingly, migrated from Norway to Canada (2,000 miles!) in just 76 days.  My personal favourites are, perhaps, Land Corridors – a strong, direct and heartfelt song about the devastation of greenways that, despite its powerful message, still manages to fit in that awesome fiddle solo, and The Greenland Shark – a cracking song in which the aged shark muses on the changes that have taken place on Earth during its long lifetime, whist going about its daily business of seeking food and a mate.

 Christina Alden and Alex Patterson have already made some significant waves during their seven or so years together.  They’re a firmly established presence on the UK folk scene, they’ve made main stage appearances at some of the UK’s top acoustic music festivals, they’ve done a 23-date tour with the mighty Show of Hands and are past winners of the prestigious fRoots editor’s Choice Album of the Year Award.  With Hunter, the duo are poised for even greater recognition and achievements.  A tour, that will take the band all over the south of England, from Norfolk to Dorset to Kent and all stations in between is scheduled to start at Snape Maltings (Suffolk) on 28th May.  I fervently hope that these dates will be allowed to go ahead because, on the strength of what I’ve heard today, the shows will be tremendous.

Watch Christina and Alex perform Hunter, the album’s title track, here:

Christina Alden and Alex Patterson Online: Website / Facebook / YouTube

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