- 15 Apr 20
Another One Cleanly Over The Boundary For Mr Hunter
If you need any kind of assurance as to James Hunter’s bona fides, then ask Van Morrison, who lent his vocal backing to Hunter’s …Believe What I Say solo debut - there were albums with the marvellously named Howlin’ Wilf & The Vee-Jays before that - back in 1996. Morrison gave Hunter a start too, and you can hear him in the background on Van’s Days Like These. Things went up and down for Hunter in the interim – he was Grammy nominated for 2006’s People Gonna Talk, then he was back labouring to pay the bills. He’s been with Daptone – a label who know a thing or two about rhythm n’ blues - since 2016 and this, his third album for the Brooklyn independents, is, like the previous Whatever It Takes, a winner.
What we’re talking about here is the kind of soulful R&B that was knocking around in the fifties and early sixties before The Beatles came along and ruined everything. Hunter’s voice evokes that of Ray Charles in his prime, and the band recall those precious Atlantic sides as well as the sound Georgie Fame was peddling in the mid sixties before the world went the other way.
The rumba of ‘I Can Change Your Mind’ shuffles in over güiro, toms and honking sax as Hunter convincingly pleads his case, ‘Who’s Fooling Who’ might be a very distant cousin of the Impressions’ ‘Gypsy Woman’, and ‘Till I Hear It From You’ cops a feel of Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ with added chromatic harmonica. The smooth soul groove of ‘Never’ is the only thing here that even approaches four minutes, but we’ll let it off as it’s a lovely song, and the title track has got to be a previously unheard Ray Charles vocal that someone found in a drawer. Just in case we forgot, Hunter also reminds us of his guitar chops on ‘Ain’t Goin’ Up In One Of Those Things’
‘Paradise For One’ – “solitaire means I don’t have to share” – finds our man avoiding the altar, but that’s not even the best lyric here. How about this, from ‘Can’t Help Myself’: “If monkeys ruled the planet by 2902, they’ll have written Hamlet before I get over you’? Get that Novello lad on the phone! Nick Of Time is good to the last drop too, finishing as it does with the sweet and gentle ‘He’s Your Could’ve Been’.
While this music harks back to what was perhaps a simpler time, it is far from simplistic. Rather, it juggles perfect execution with some real soul, which is no mean feat. Hats – and by hats, I mean fedoras or pork pie numbers, worn at a jaunty angle – off.