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Albums Of The Week: Ian Hunter | Defiance Part 2: Fiction

The veteran rocker's second star-studded set actually improves on its predecessor — thanks mostly to a slate of new songs that deliver a more potent political punch.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Defiance Part 2: Fiction sees legendary singer-songwriter, author, and rock ’n’ roll star Ian Hunter following up last year’s Part 1 with a second collection of mighty new songs as impassioned and powerful as anything in his landmark hall of fame-worthy canon.

Like its predecessor, the new album boasts an all-star lineup that includes friends and fans like Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson (Cheap Trick), Brian May (Queen), Lucinda Williams, Dean DeLeo, Robert De Leo and Eric Kretz (Stone Temple Pilots), Joe Elliott and Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Johnny Depp, Billy Bob Thornton and J.D. Andrew (Boxmasters), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Bob Dylan), Waddy Wachtel (Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne), David Mansfield (Bob Dylan, T Bone Burnett), Tony Shanahan (Patti Smith), Steve Holley (Wings), Morgan Fisher (Mott The Hoople), and — in what proved among their final studio recordings — the late, great Jeff Beck and Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters). Additionally, for the Record Store Day vinyl edition, two tracks include Mike McCready and Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam), and Chris and Rich Robinson (Black Crowes).

Defiance Part 2: Fiction — which features an original cover painting by Depp — includes the electrifying first single Precious, featuring Hawkins on drums, Elliott on background vocals and instantly identifiable guitar from longtime mate May (who began his own road to superstardom when Queen supported Mott The Hoople on their blockbuster 1974 tour of the U.K. and North America). “We got on really well with Queen,” Hunter says. “When you’re in a band you can get really bored with each other but they were just normal blokes, it was like being on the road with nine guys instead of just five. Freddie was hilarious and I’ve kept up with Brian to this day.”

Hunter has stood in the spotlight for nearly seven decades, from fronting Mott The Hoople and his renowned partnership with Mick Ronson to his internationally lauded 21st century renaissance with The Rant Band. The Defiance project came together in 2020 as Hunter worked on new songs in his Connecticut basement alongside his longtime collaborator, guitarist, producer and multi-instrumentalist Andy York. With quarantine rules in effect, longtime manager Mike Kobayashi and famed rock photographer Ross Halfin suggested Hunter reach out to some of his friends and fellow artists to fill in the tracks. A spectacular selection of stars immediately agreed, building out Hunter’s demos with their trademark talents.

Now Hunter returns with Defiance Part 2: Fiction, again boasting a historic roster of guest artists while evincing a harder lyrical edge and denser musical approach. Having long used his voice to explore and examine contemporary issues, Hunter is once more pointing his passionate pen at a society seemingly more out of control with each passing day. “I was trying to avoid all that on Part 1,” Hunter says, “but on Part 2, it caught up with me. Most of those were written two or three years back, so I wanted to get it all out before whatever takes hold in November. It would be dated after the fact.”

Songs like the legalization anthem Weed — featuring Stone Temple PilotsDean DeLeo (guitar), Robert De Leo (bass), and Kretz (drums) — and the epic Fiction — with keyboards from Mott The Hoople’s Fisher and a stirring string arrangement from Mansfield — are full of righteous fury and vibrant spirit, Hunter’s perspective and gift for protest music as clear-eyed and independent as ever. “I’m neither left nor particularly right,” Hunter adds. “I’m just straight down the middle. And so I tried to write from that point of view. An eagle has two wings and if one falls off it perishes. That’s what I’m trying to get at. A bit of common sense, you know, Thomas Paine stuff.”

Countless highlights abound through Defiance Part 2: Fiction, from a pair of irresistibly crunchy rockers (People and Kettle of Fish) featuring three founding members of Cheap Trick to the raw, emotional What Would I Do Without You, which sees Hunter sharing lead vocals with Lucinda Williams — the first duet in his extensive canon. “Lucinda and her husband came to one of my shows in Nashville,” Hunter says. “I love her voice, there’s something very childlike, and you just know it’s her straight away. You don’t forget that voice.”

Much to his surprise, Hunter is currently hard at work writing songs for a third installment in the Defiance project. Though born from expediency and quarantine, the communal nature of Defiance has proven a remarkably fruitful creative path for Hunter in his indefatigable journey through rock ’n’ roll. “I never initiated this,” he says. “It just kind of just happened and it turned out great. So I’m going to write some more songs and we’ll see what happens again.”