Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward
The musical partnership of guitarist Charlie Hunter and vocalist Lucy Woodward was forged under just such inauspicious, curveball-icious circumstances. In January 2018, shortly before he was scheduled to hit the road for a west coast tour with Mexican singer-songwriter Silvana Estrada, Hunter got word that Estrada’s visa had been denied by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Needing an emergency vocalist for the dates, Hunter reached out to Woodward, whom he knew through their mutual friends in the jazz/funk collective Snarky Puppy.
“It was about four days before the tour,” Woodward remembers. “A mutual friend connected us, saying, ‘Why don’t you get Lucy to jump on it?'” Woodward, fresh off supporting her fourth solo album, 2016’s Til They Bang on the Door, was game; but she also knew that they only had a few days to build an entire set list. “Silvana’s a guitar player, and they were going to do all songs that she wrote, which were in Spanish, so it wasn’t like I was going to ‘fill in’ for her,” she explains. “Charlie said, ‘I come from blues, you come from blues – let’s just start with the blues.’ Once we decided to go that route, he started sending me links to Blind Willie Johnson and Bessie Smith tunes, things from the early Twenties. And he was like, ‘What songs have you always wanted to do?’ We went back and forth with about thirty ideas, and came up with a set, had like a two-hour rehearsal, and did our first show the same day.”
“Musically, culturally, we just hit it off,” raves Hunter. “Lucy’s a great singer, a good all-around human, and she was totally up for the adventure.” Each night on the tour became an exhilarating high-wire walk for the two artists as they navigated the melodies, grooves and spaces of the songs they were covering, with arrangements that they’d often just cooked up on the way to the gig. “It was so organic,” Woodward recalls. “You’d have an idea in the car, and it would be like, ‘Hey, let’s try this song tonight! Let’s just find the key and go!’ That whole tour was just full of surprises. Everything was just so natural, and every place we played, Charlie’s audiences were so wonderful. They love to watch an experiment happen onstage; whether it’s wrong or right, they embrace it, and that’s really cool. And about four days into the tour, Charlie was like, ‘I think we need to record this stuff!'”
After further refining their repertoire via several subsequent tours together, Hunter and Woodward finally did just that. In November 2018, the pair reconvened at Stephen Lee Price’s studio in High Point, NC, with longtime Hunter collaborator Derrek Phillips on the drums. “We’d been playing live with percussionists all year,” says Woodward, “but Charlie said, ‘Let’s record this with drums; it’s the way to go.'” “Derrek drummed on a lot of my records from the early 2000s, and we were on the road together for a long time,” says Hunter. “Great drummer, great pocket, great everything. He’s the only guy I know that’s played with like Hank Williams Jr. and Greg Osby – I don’t think that many people can claim a wide net like that!”