Geography


Pacific Sun (July 1994)

I recently bought all these used Bob Dylan records, so I'm listening to "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Low Lands" and reading ' Performances' Paul Williams step-by-step account of every song Dylan ever put out," says singer-songwriter Sonya Hunter during a phone call from her Sausalito home.

" I guess you could say that I`m going through this Bob Dylan phase."

Actually, Dylan--the grizzled folk revivalist and Hunter, the fresh-faced neophyte--enjoy a common bond. Both were the subjects of lengthy essays published last winter in Williams' prestigious Crawdaddy when he reincarnated the inveterate music rag. Not bad. considering that first issue only contained reviews of new recordings by Dylan, Neil Young, R.E.M. Bruce Cockbum and Television teamed with Hunter's three-year-old debut, "Favorite Short Stories"(Heyday) .

"It surprises me that this modest album his grown on me to the point where I'm not ashamed to speak in terms of what art is all about for me," Williams opined. "It's about meeting people. Voices that touch me. Voices I listen for, look for, wait for. Voices I remember. Hunter has one of those voices."

In a perfect world this diminutive 28 year-old songstress would be a household name and her evocative finely crafted compositions--with their plain, folksy elegance, hypnotic melodies and catchy wordplay-would dance freely in the minds of the masses. She's been called a cross between Patsy Cline and Exene Cervenka, a singer with a distinctive voice and one of the best songwriters to emerge from San Francisco's underground folk scene that spawned the likes of ex-Avenger Penelope Houston, J.C. Hopkins and Chuck Prophet, among others.

"Hunter's songs are driven by a compelling mix of laid-back, rootsy simplicity and big city sophistication an unlikely hybrid of wide-open spaces and the confined intensity of urban life," wrote S.F. Weekly music critic L.A. Kanter, ruminating on Hunter's small-town upbringing and street smarts. "Indeed, her tunes are notable more for their engaging sense of innocence and discovery than the tired-out angst and world-weary cynicism practiced by most of the post-neo-everything urban folkies so currently in vogue."

Hunter grew up in Sebastopol and moved to Marin in February. She learned to play the guitar at age 14 while attending a small alternative school along the Russian River. "It seemed like there was a glut of teenage girls at the school and we tended to play a lot of music together." she recalls. " We'd learn a Ted Nugent song and then we'd turn around and learn something by Melanie."

Soon they were writing original material and encouraging each other to be creative. "It was like a singer-songwriter breeding ground," she says. Hunter stuck with it. She dumped those Ted Nugent tunes and gravitated toward solo acoustic performance. "I was pretty much the bedroom singer-songwriter with an occasional campfire or restaurant gig" she adds. "I didn't really put myself out there until I moved to the city eight years ago."

In San Francisco, Hunter hit the open mike circuit and quickly became a fixture on the city's burgeoning neo-folkie music scene. There she met Pat Thomas who had just launched his own record label, Heyday, with a folksy roster that included former Green-on-Red honcho Chris Cacavas and campy chanteuse Connie Champagne. Her first album featured a cavalcade of Heyday stars, including Cacavas, Chuck Prophet, American Music Club guitarist Vudi and cellist Kim Osterwalder of Flophouse. Her songs drew critical raves for their sparse arrangements and vivid, insightful imagery.

Last fall, she released Geography, a stunning collection of stripped-down passion plays on Thomas' German-based Normal label. It was recorded on a shoestring budget of $1,500 at a home studio in North Beach and was originally intended as a demo tape. These days. Hunter is pursuing a more band-oriented approach. She's played a handful of recent gigs in Marin and Sonoma. She's hired a manager and agent, recorded a new six-song demo tape and hopes to shed her waitress job at an upscale Pacific Heights eatery. There is some U.S. indie and even major label interest in her new material.

"I'm getting a lot of positive calls back from this tape," she says.

And how does she describe the artistic landscape from her current perch overlooking San Francisco Bay? "It's like having a lot of stuff right there at the tip of my heart," she muses. "It's like a lot of stuff wants to come out and it's all just a matter of learning how to funnel it--you know, how to funnel all that inspiration and that lust for life into something that people can relate to.

"It's challenging and it's fun, but at the same time it's a lot of work and discovery right now."
---Greg Cahill


Ptolematic Terrascope (England, Winter 1993/94)

What a gem Ms. hunter is. A singer/guitarist with the voice of an angel and the delivery of a freight train, she writes songs that catch at the heart and tug tears from your eyes, gracefully charming the notes from her guitar and causing ripples amongst reviewers and audiences alike. Sonya is on the one hand an almost classic folk performer in the American idiom, and on the other a contemporary musician unafraid to try out new ideas-this album is in fact compiled from demos created at a friends house for personal consumption, which lends it an added air of naivety and inspiration-and on the third, or a foot or something, she has a genuine feel for the dynamics of a performance, throwing in a little electric guitar, mandolin, slide, or simply graphical lyrics to paint the complete picture.

Readers may recall her debut album of a couple years back, "Favorite Short Stories" (on San Francisco's Heyday records) which saw her accompanied by the likes of Chuck Prophet, Chris Cacavas, and an American Music Club or two-"Geography" is in some ways an unnatural successor, given the afterformentioned fact that is wasn't recorded as an album as such, but a worthy one and with material like the opening "Unlikely Combinations" (that indeed reflects back to her earlier album), the winning "Two Worlds Collide" (from where the title of the collection is lifted), "Heart Cryin' In The Wind" (my favorite, a gloriously Joni-esque affair) and her guitar instrumental "Baby Girl" which is a once dexterous and subliminally captivating, listeners are left in no doubt that here is an artist with a promising future ahead of her.
---Phil
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