From the same label that brought you Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones and with musicians that have backed the late Amy Winehouse, British born and Essex raised Rhythm and blues singer James Hunter is very much in the old school of a throaty vocal delivery of Sam Cooke or Ray Charles, and dipped in the tradition of an era when blues met the emerging soul sounds head on. His first US release in 2006, ‘People gonna talk,’ catapulted him into the US blues charts and was also a top ten album by discerning British music magazine Mojo. The key to Hunter’s vocal prowess is the time he has undoubtedly spent soaking up all those musical influences and these range from Bobby Bland and the grittier side of soul-blues through to the Motown greats and then practising in live performance. A fast-paced R & B song, ‘(Baby) hold on’ would make an ideal single and has the catchiest of riffs with fine polyrhythms on drums that recall the mighty Joe Dukes who backed Bobby Bland and owned the independent Duke label out of Texas. That sound in particular has served as an inspiration for the instrumentalists and their crisp and tight accompaniment is a joy to behold. If this writer had to choose a favourite number then it might be the horn-led, ‘If that don’t tell you’, which has something of a Latin undercurrent, though close on its heels is the rumba-tinged mid-tempo groove of ‘Light of my life’. A proto-Motown feel comes across on the uptempo, ‘Free your mind (while you still got time)’, and for sheer variation the quality deep soul ballad, ‘Something’s callin’ is a quality song with punchy horns and a thoroughly authentic 1960s sound. If ACE records had placed this on one of their excellent compilations and concealed the real author, listeners would be desperately seeking out the singer’s origins.
Musicians these days can tend to be over-hyped and receive too much exposure before they are fully matured and this is a downside to the industry as a whole that is heavily reliant on immediate payback. In James Hunter’s case, it is the complete opposite because he has more than paid his dues and honed his craft over a long period. He has recorded with Van Morrison who regularly calls upon the singer to support him on tour and has opened for musicians of the calibre of Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Willie Nelson, which is praise indeed. James Hunter’s time has definitely come and boy is he now ready and able to deliver!