Sunday, January 17, 2021

The singing fireman and Music Row

During idle moments at the firehouse, as I listened to Hunter Mounce strum his acoustic guitar and sing in that true-as-the-soil country voice, I only half-joked that someday country superstar Kenny Chesney would be Hunter’s opening act.

The pandemic has effectively shut down live music for Chesney and nearly everyone else. But the “no shirt, no shoes, no problem” guy should not rest on his laurels. When things return to “normal” -- whatever the hell that’s going to look like -- Chesney will feel Hunter breathing down his neck.

Hunter Thomas Mounce is a talented young singer/songwriter from Pleasant Hill, MO, a small country town just outside Kansas City that is feeling the encroachment of the ever-spreading suburbs. While subdivisions are blossoming in Hunter’s hometown where cattle once grazed, this boy is still country. And I say that as the sincerest of compliments.

Hunter joined my crew at the fire district as a fresh-out-of-the-academy rookie firefighter and emergency medical technician. I was on the tail end of my fire-service career, and he was just beginning his. Hunter had to endure the hazing that all rookies experience as a rite of passage. He passed the hazing test and his crucible of fire (no pun intended). I was proud to be Hunter’s captain. You did good, kid.

Rookie though he may have been on the fire engine, Hunter was already a pro at music, creating songs with a maturity well above his can’t-even-drink-yet age.

Hunter is now on the front lines of the pandemic at the Hendersonville Fire Department in Tennessee, just a hop, skip and a jump from Nashville’s Music Row. What better a place for a singing fireman? (Watch "Feelin' The Fire Burn Out" here.)

Hunter released his debut album, Folks Like Me And You, in 2019. It is difficult to reconcile the 11 blowout songs here with the kid I knew back in the firehouse. Not only does he now sport a mustache, which makes him a real fireman, in just a few short years he has mastered the recording studio.

I heard the genesis of one of the tracks, “Sweatin’ Beer,” as Hunter worked out the song on his guitar at the station. It answers the ages-old question of whether the morning after is worth the night before. “It’s all fun and games, but my biggest fear is when I wake up in the morning, I’ll be sweatin’ beer.” (Interesting he knows what that’s like since he wasn't even old enough to legally drink back then).

If there is a uniqueness to country music, it is the pithiness of the lyrics, the creation of a forceful and vibrant image in just a few memorable words. The titles of the songs often speak for themselves: “Friends In Low Places,” “Thank God And Greyhound You’re Gone,” “I Hope You’re The End Of My Story” and “Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town.” Hunter achieves this in two of my favorite songs on the album, ”Me With Money” and "Fish I Can’t Catch.” 

In “Me With Money,” the singer bemoans losing his love to a rival who “flashed a platinum card and made you his wife.” What hurts worse, though, is the realization that the only difference between the two men is money. “You said ‘I do’ to that rich boy who ain’t nothin’ but me with money.”

The girl who is out of his league gets a new twist in Hunter’s remembrances of a young infatuation. “I’ve been caught up on her since she walked in my class, on the first day of high school I first heard her laugh.” Despite different baits and casting, trolling, even dynamiting the water, the girl, though, remains a “Fish I Can’t Catch.” (Hear the song here.)

Hunter has released several singles since his debut album, and two of them may be his best work yet.

“Kindergarten Rodeo Clown” is a haunting, true-life refrain about losing a childhood friend. “In a second everything can change, and I’ll never forget how it felt that day.” It is a beautiful song but hard to listen to if you are still haunted by a life no longer lived.

“We were in that church talkin’ about his life
In front of all our family and friends
How much we’re all going to miss his smile
Don’t know if it will ever sink in
My old friend had his last go round.” (See the video here.)

Jaunty music juxtaposes the melancholy of a downward spiraling life in “Alone In The Lone Star,” released just days ago. It begins with “Well, tonight I’m drinking vodka and Topo Chico in a dive bar up in Houston.” That is damn near as good an opening line as The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women:” “I met a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis she tried to take me upstairs for a ride.” (Topo Chico, by the way, is bottled mineral water from Monterrey, Mexico. Yes, I had to look it up. I’m not that cool).

The singer laments losing his woman amid a life of mistakes and wrong choices.

"But she ain’t the one to blame
Guess my ramblin’ soul
Was too much to hold,
And now she's cursing my name.”

Fleeing the collapse of the good life he once had, the singer finds himself lost and lonely in a hole-in-the-wall joint where the “night life is crawling.” What an image those words paint.

“I couldn’t escape the mistakes I made so I up and hit the road
I’m hiding my lonely where nobody knows me
Yeah, and that’s how I found this place
She’s moving’ on, and I’m alone in the Lone Star state.”

Hunter and me are on the left.

So someday I expect to shuffle up to the back door of an arena where a huge neon sign lights the night sky with the words: "Hunter Mounce. Tonight Only. Sold Out." I will rap on the door with my cane. A burly security guard will roll his eyes when I say, "I knew the singer when he was nobody. I know he'll want to see me." But, taking pity on me, the guard will say, "Wait here." And then I'll hear, "Hey, Cap. Come on in."

As I said earlier, kid, you did good, but now you're doing great. 

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