Between the two of them, Charlie Hunter and Lucy Woodward have performed with enough big-name artists to fill a music hall of fame. But an unfortunate situation with a young Mexican singer, Silvana Estrada, first brought them together as a duo.
“The reason we started working together, Silvana was denied a visa like two days before a tour started,” Hunter said. “I had to scramble, and Lucy, crazily enough, happened to be available for most of the dates on the tour.”
Hunter and Woodward have been working together for about a year, and they will perform April 13 at The Crown at Carolina Theatre before heading out on tour across the United States and Europe. The show will be Hunter’s first widely publicized gig in Greensboro, where he and his family moved about six months ago.
His work on custom seven- and eight-string guitars has earned Hunter an international reputation and landed him in recording studios with the likes of Norah Jones, Frank Ocean, John Mayer, Mos Def and D’Angelo.
He and Woodward recorded a duo album titled “Music!Music!Music!” in October at Stephen Lee Price’s studio in High Point.
“Technically, it’s not going to be out till the end of April, but we’ll have CDs at the gig,” Hunter said. “People can jump the line.”
Woodward has sung on records by Chaka Khan, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart, Snarky Puppy, Randy Jackson, Carole King, Nikka Costa and Joe Cocker. She was born in London, grew up in New York and Holland and signed with Atlantic Records in 2003, scoring a Top 40 hit with “Dumb Girls.” But she soon veered off into a jazzier, bluesier direction.
“We just kind of hit it off,” Hunter said. “She’s a hoot.”
Doug Collette reviewed a September show in Vermont by Hunter, Woodward and drummer Keita Ogawa for Glide magazine: “The slightly less than two hours the Charlie Hunter Trio performed on stage in this small room was the quintessential intimate concert, that is, mutually (and equally) satisfying for artist and audience.”
Hunter and Woodward conjure a spare, funky vibe on “Music!Music!Music!” Hunter lays down lead, rhythm and bass lines on guitar, playing sinuous, haunting lead on “The One I Love is Gone” and an urgent chicken-scratch rhythm on “Be My Husband.” Nashville-based Derrek C. Phillips rounds out the rhythm section with a skeletal drum beat, all lean energy and forward thrust.
The 11 songs draw from a wide mix of traditions, including Terence Trent D’Arby’s 1987 hit “Wishing Well;” Randy Weeks’ “Can’t Let Go,” best known from Lucinda Williams’ 1998 version; and the Animals’ 1965 hit “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Woodward owns them all with her soul-drenched voice, a slow burn that occasionally erupts into a Mavis Staples-style inferno.
A New Orleans drummer, Doug Belote, will round out the lineup for the show at The Crown. He has played with everyone from Dr. John and Allen Toussaint to Fred Wesley and Willie Nelson.
Hunter started using equipment made in the Piedmont long before he moved here. The guitar he plays on “Music!Music!Music!” — Big Six — was built by Hillsborough-based Hybrid Guitars. He uses amps built by Carr Amplifiers in Pittsboro.
The diversity and creativity of Greensboro in 2019 reminds Hunter of the San Francisco Bay Area of his 1970s boyhood. He was born in Rhode Island, but his family moved west to live in a commune.
“We did the typical hippie thing,” Hunter said. “We lived on a school bus for four or five years and ended up in Berkeley.”
Growing up there gave him an “unfair musical advantage,” he says.
“Everybody played guitar,” Hunter said. “It was just a matter of when, not if.”
He is working to spread some of that same vibe in Greensboro, with plans underway for community-based music programs and extended appearances by musicians he has gotten to know in his 30 years in the business.
“Stuff you would see in New York City or Zurich, Switzerland,” Hunter said. “Since I have a pretty solid Rolodex, we’re going to try to bring people from, essentially, all over the world to do residencies here.”
Hunter also hasn’t given up on bringing Silvana Estrada to the United States, despite the current presidential administration’s travel policies that blocked her last year. He has worked with the 21-year-old singer on two stunning albums to date and plans to keep the partnership going.
Estrada sings, writes songs and plays cuatro, a Mexican instrument in the guitar-mandolin family. Hunter first encountered her while teaching in Mexico as part of a jazz festival.
“She pulled out a cuatro and started playing these amazing original songs that were very folkloric from where she’s from in Xalapa,” Hunter said. “She’s kind of a genius-level person.”