The discussion about Christopher Denny is always going to be about his high lonesome warble. Like Bob Dylan or Tom Waits, the twenty-three-year-old Arkansan’s tone and delivery dominate his songs, and there will doubtless be those who accuse him of not being able to sing. But Age Old Hunger, a heartfelt homage to the country music of the Deep South, is a provocative opening statement from an undeniably talented songwriter with the potential to craft melodies and lyrics as distinctive as the voice he uses to sing them.
The two covers nestled in unassuming slots near the end of Age Old Hunger give subtle clues to both Denny’s aspirations as a songwriter and to the artists that influenced him. Much like Dylan showing admiration for artists by covering them on his early albums, Denny ably interprets Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again).” Both songs deal with loss, and Denny is able to convey the songwriters’ heartbreak with a feeling beyond his years. Each track fits well into the scheme of the album, but it is with Denny’s own interpretations of those themes that Age Old Hunger makes it greatest impact.
The nine originals are simple in their construction but contain a sly lyrical complexity. Opener “Gypsy into a Carpenter” starts with basic guitar and piano chords that Denny overlays with imagery reminiscent of Blood on the Tracks. By the time the snare drum has kicked in and Denny has observed that his “socks have already been worn by some other guy,” a Hammond organ offers a perfect musical counterpoint to the restrained tale of woe. The album segues into “All Burned Up,” a country stomper punctuated by Denny’s wailing harmonica and raucous lyrical delivery. The song’s loose exuberance is matched again on the rollicking “Going Home,” where Denny lets his band do most of the work and provides only a simple chorus to punctuate the number.
The rest of the album is quiet in comparison, and Denny proves capable of writing tender lyrics. “Westbound Train,” depicts an intimate encounter between two lovers delivered in an understated wail that evokes the both the melancholy feelings of new love and the profound wonder to be found in a simple gesture. Denny shows similar skills in chronicling the end of relationships. Both “When Am I Gonna Realize” and “Heart’s on Fire” offer lyrical and heartfelt interpretations of love gone wrong. Denny finds the full power of his voice when he is able to throw himself into a song that seems to have been written from a chapter in his life.
The only misstep is the closer, which gives the album its title. Though the song is of the same lyrical quality as the rest of the tracks, there is something vaguely unsettling about listening to Denny wish that he could “feel things right from my heart like I did when I was younger.” Though he attempts to deliver the lyrics with the authority that he shows on other parts of the album, “Age Old Hunger” is just a little bit beyond his reach. Instead of dragging the album down, however, it serves as a reminder that Denny could easily surpass the quality of Age Old Hunger as he matures into his already amazing voice.