When David met Sam

by Nick Bollinger / 09 May, 2009

David Kilgour and Sam Hunt's Falling Debris is a work of instinct and fate.

You could say both artists have made careers out of being themselves. Each discovered at a young age the thing he was apparently put on this planet to do: in Hunt's case, making poems; in Kilgour's, playing thrilling guitar. And each quickly established a voice that was uniquely and recognisably theirs, something most poets and guitar players never achieve in a lifetime.

Both are masters of economy. With Hunt, every word and comma is carefully chosen; some of his best poems are so lean you wonder what is holding them together. Kilgour can get a song out of two chords, or one. What matters most to both poet and guitarist is tone.

In a written introduction to their album, an uncharacteristically expansive Kilgour recalls he was 10 years old when he first encountered Hunt, who was paying a visit to the Dunedin hotel that Kilgour's father managed. "He is dressed in white denim, head to foot. I'm impressed, he looks so bloody cool and even at this stage I know who he is." Criss-crossing paths over the next few decades eventually led to a crucial meeting on a plane in 2007, and ultimately to Falling Debris.

It is not the first time Hunt's poetry has been placed in a musical package. That was in the early 70s, when he cut an album with pioneering Wellington band Mammal. Sometimes they gave melodies to Hunt's words, other times he incanted over their music. While intriguing, with moments of beauty, it rarely gelled.

By contrast, Falling Debris makes the poetry and music inseparable. Hunt's distinctive spoken delivery is absent. His words are entrusted entirely to Kilgour, whose singing has always had a laconic quality, almost as though it were an afterthought, or another string on his guitar.

If you didn't know, you might think at first this was one of Kilgour's solo discs. Lines like "I throw you flowers/it could be a rope" have the brevity of Kilgour's own writing. Kilgour picks up each phrase and drops it, not appearing to give one any more weight than another. I'm reminded of the nonchalance with which Bob Dylan turns over cue cards in the Subterranean Homesick Blues video.

Yet listen closer to the lush tangle of mostly acoustic guitars, drums, occasional keyboards and Kilgour's voice, and Hunt's perennial themes emerge. The elements are raging. Clouds stir memories of women; women conjure steam, and wind in trees. There are mountains, dogs and children. There is God, and death.

Hear how effortlessly the broken lines of Everytime It Rains Like This fall into verses and choruses, or the way Kilgour's electric guitar answers the elegy of Friend to Many.

You realise that these aren't poems grafted onto music but something far more intricate and personal. It is as though Kilgour's music has grown up around these poems, attaching itself to the words like they were always meant to be together.

FALLING DEBRIS, David Kilgour and Sam Hunt (Arch Hill).


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