When artists announce the release of an acoustic album, it’s fair to say that the world rarely shakes with excitement. A collection of stripped-back favourites, you say? All the songs we know and love but with poorer sound quality and a few bum notes, is it? For all but the most devoted fans, those who revel in the opportunity to explain how you really need to hear the pedal steel version to understand the song properly, it’s a hard pass.
Thankfully, many of the new interpretations on ‘Hunted’ – Anna Calvi’s collaborative reworking of 2018’s Mercury-nominated ‘Hunter’ – forge something genuinely new from the old demos. Brilliantly, many actually exceed the originals. From the offset, Julia Holter’s angelic register immediately swells and expands ‘Swimming Pool’, and her full lean into the word “desire” feels like a signpost for the record’s emotional core.
Still, it’s hard to love the first form of a song’s unique folds and creases and to not also fear that any alterations to it might arrive as adulteration. On ‘Hunted’, though, we’re offered a glimpse into some of Anna Calvi’s best work at its genesis, and there’s nothing but pleasure in their revelation. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s whispered invocations on ‘Eden’ make for a fine example, elevating the song without losing any of its stripped-back grace in the process.
Above all ‘Hunted’ showcases Calvi’s talent for curation, with a selection of contributors here who know when to let the songs breathe and when to provide something unexpected. Courtney Barnett joins in for the former, a reasonably faithful performance of ‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy’ that retains Calvi as the focal point. Elsewhere, the inclusion of IDLES’ Joe Talbot on ‘Wish’ immediately offers a new angle, channelling his own band’s fire and fury to meld the song into something wilder still.
The quieter Calvi sings, the closer the listener leans in. The result is divine. The album ends abruptly on her voice, clear and alone at last as the guitar drops out, singing two words: “I want”. For a record that begins and ends with the communication of longing, ‘Hunted’ proves to be an emphatic and wholly satisfying addition to a remarkable career.
Release date: March 6