It was last December that Daptone announced they’d soon be releasing a new album on everybody’s favourite UK blue eyed soul boy – James Hunter (not forgetting his famous “Six”). Well that “soon” has turned out to be roughly three months – but the wait has been worth it. The 13 tracker that is ‘Nick Of Time’ is right up there with the onetime Essex railway man’s very best. That’s to say it’s a delicious contemporary take on early soul – the kind crafted by people like Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield in the Impressions’ early ABC days.
By now you may be familiar with this album’s opening track… ‘I Can Change Your Mind’. It was released as a single in January and, rightly, it received max airplay on all the savvy radio stations. It sums/summed up the art of James Hunter and the soundscape of this collection. That’s to say, a delicious almost languid rolling soul sound with parping brass, big Hammond stabs, cutting guitar and Hunter’s distinct vocals that manage to be both committed and laid back.
Yes, it’s a reviewer’s cliché but there are no duds or any filler on ‘Nick Of Time’ and space precludes a focus on each highlight – but here’s a few. The album’s title cut starts like Burt Bacharach’s ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’ before developing a call and response life all of its own; Impressions’ fans will recognize the homage to the group’s ‘Too Slow’ on the jazzy ‘Till I Hear From You’; there’s a jazzy flavour too on the Oscar Brown/Jon Hendricks flavoured ‘Paradise For One’ while ‘Ain’t Goin’ Up In One Of Those Things’ dips its sonic brush into the soul/jazz palette. Pushed to pick the album’s real highlight though I’d plump for the sweet, sweet ‘Never. It’s clear that James and the band have been listening long and hard to Barbara Lewis’ ‘Hello Stranger’… and why not! It’s one of the greatest recordings in soul’s whole canon.
Indeed listening over and over again to this album (it merits multiple plays) I’d still draw some comparison to the Impressions and Sam Cooke while Mr H’s people say the set is “a voyage between beautiful, mid-tempo rumba recalling early King/Federal releases, while lush arrangements summon lost tracks from early ’60s Burt Bacharach sessions”. However, what’s coming through much more strongly is the influence of Detroit record producer Ollie McLaughlin. Proper soul fans (James Hunter included) will know him and this ‘Nick Of Time’ set is redolent of the music that McLaughlin crafted for people like Deon Jackson, the Capitols and the aforementioned Barbara Lewis. Daptone is the perfect home for the set!