What if country guitar standout Junior Brown raised his voice a few octaves and started playing R&B? He’d probably sound something like British phenomenom James Hunter. Appearing stateside for the first time in 2006 with his Grammy nominated album People Gonna Talk, Hunter is now releasing his second album of ’60s infused jams: The Hard Way. And after over two decades of performing across his native Britain, Hunter is giving us a taste of what he’s got to offer, and it’s definitely been worth the wait.
Upon first listen, this album feels like it could have been unearthed from the days of Otis Redding and The Four Tops. This is partly due to Producer Liam Watson (The White Stripes’ Elephant) recording Hunter’s band live on an 8-track tape recorder, partly due to throwback sound (backup vocalsÂ behind Sam Cooke-like lyrics and vocals)Â Â and partly due to Hunter’s genuine soul. This album is aÂ brilliant piece of workÂ and every track is a new revelation. Hunter’s soulful crooning is equally as impressive as his riffing guitar solos. Every moment somehow manages to feel both carefully crafted and almost offhand. Listen to the rhythmic pauses in “Til the End” to see what I mean. In true ’60s style, he’s got two songs dedicated to women (“Carina” and “Jacqueline”) each of which furthers the notion that Hunter truly knows his way around love music: those saxophones don’t lie, and neither does the use of backup singers repeating the titular female’s name.
This is the kind of music that so many have attempted, and more often than not, have failed at. Hunter has more than enough skill and charisma to pull it off and the result is one of the best albums I’ve heard in years.
Zach’s Rating: A
Perfect For: Finding out that R&B from the ’60s is alive and grooving today
Stay Away if: You’re looking for the next “Soulja Boy”
If you only buy one track, make it this one: “Don’t Do Me No Favours” – Hunter absolutely wails on this one