James Hunter

James Hunter
People Gonna Talk

GO Records-Rounder

By Art Tipaldi
October 2006

Housed across the street from the blues is sweet soul music. If you are like me and grew up in the early 1960s with a white transistor radio hidden under the pillow so you could listen to AM radio hits as you fell asleep, then you will thoroughly dig British guitarist and vocalist James Hunter.

Hunter takes the ingenuous soul music and R&B made in the late 1950s, before the days of Motown, and perfectly recreates the fun and innocence. The result is that when you hear the first notes of the tenor and baritone saxes combined with a quiet string background, your first thought will be to check the copyright date because this has to be a record unearthed from some time capsule buried in 1960.

Throughout these 14 original songs, Hunter demonstrates a concentrated appreciation and reverence for that music. Whether it’s the combination of Lee Badau’s dark baritone and Damian Hand’s melodious tenor sax - or Hunter’s voice, which alternates between the danceable soul of Jackie Wilson and the heavenly soul of Sam Cooke - this is easily one of the year’s top records.

Carwyn Ellis’ organ work with the saxes on “Riot In My Heart” perfectly recalls the days of the Go-Go: Put on your fringe midriff, get in the cage and start the party. Sam Cooke’s spirit lives in Hunter’s gorgeous ballad “Mollena”. When I hear him singing about being in heaven when they kiss, I’m reminded that most of us learned how to date through the lessons in the music of the Drifters, the Miracles, the Platters, the Coasters, and others like those Motowners. I worry when I think of the messages today’s youth gets about relationships in the music they listen to. On “Watch & Chain,” Hunter boasts that his “love” is the strongest in the land. On “Talking ‘Bout My Baby,” Hunter, like Sam Cooke, stands up for his love.

Hunter ends his world class soul styling with a low light ballad, “All Through Cryin”.

James Hunter is no overnight devotee to American soul. In 1996, Ace Records released his debut record with a guest appearance by Van Morrison. When I heard Hunter’s second record, for Ruf Records in 2000, I was knocked over by how expertly this musical soul from across the ocean could nail every nuance of the music of this time and place. This is nothing short of one of the finest records of the year.



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