James Hunter Six ‘Minute by Minute’ (Decca) 4/5

Possessing a raspy vocal delivery in the classic 1950s and 1960s R ‘n’ B tradition, and with impressive songwriting credentials, James Hunter is the consumate performer and it is surprising that he is not known and appreciated by a wider audience. His music is immediately accessible, yet rooted in the soul-blues tradition with the likes of Ray Charles and Bobby Bland formative influences. This latest releases follows on from the excellent preceding albums, ‘People gonna talk’ from 2006 and ‘The hard way’ from 2008. While both were fine all round albums, arguably this new recording is the strongest thus far with the arrangements and instrumentation tighter and expertly executed by a band that has undergone a few changes in personnel over the last decade, but in essence the sound is unchanged. Matters kick off with a punch on the raucous hammond organ and bassline of ‘Chicken switch’ which features some lovely piano vamps. Quite possibly this writer’s favourite is the minor theme ‘Heartbreaker’ with an intoxicating rhythm guitar that ceases to disappear into the background and a soulful saxophone solo. Likewise the light ska-inflected drums and piano blues that permeate ‘Let the monkey ride’ are irresistable. Latin hues are in evidence on the number ”The gyspy’ with a underlying guitar riff that recalls ‘Tequila’ while the shuffling beat of ‘Goldmine’ typifies the professionalism of the musicianship on offer. James Hunter is probably best known for regularly opening as a live act for Van Morrison, but on this evidence he certainly merits a place in your multiple listening channels all on his own.

Tim Stenhouse