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Ian Hunter 

Shrunken Heads (Yep Roc)

Ian Hunter has always demonstrated a biting wit and shocking ease with a hard-rocking tune, but the ex-Mott the Hoople frontman outdoes himself on Shrunken Heads. From the blues boogie of "How's Your House," whose caustic title reflects his take on the feds' insufficient response to Katrina, to the Stonesy "Fuss About Nothin'," with its dyspeptic take on integrity, Hunter comes on like a prophet ablaze with wisdom. Sure, he might sound curmudgeonly at times, but the writing is sharp and the music so crisply engaging that it's easily forgiven. Besides, it's hard not to empathize with his longing for the "Soul of America," when he notes the "Good old boys in their three-piece suits/Feathering their nests while they're rallying the troops," or laugh when he complains, "I Am What I Hated When I Was Young."

Indeed, the disarming honesty of the album opener, "Words (Big Mouth)" -- which sounds like a Blonde on Blonde outtake -- demonstrates enough vulnerability to ease the sting of the rhetoric that follows. With his Dylanesque croon, Hunter promises to mediate his "cruel little clusters maiming the vernacular" -- but he never does.

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