JAMES HUNTER: The Hard Way (Label: Fantasy, Universal)

  • Home
  • Reviews
  • JAMES HUNTER: The Hard Way (Label: Fantasy, Universal)

James Hunter isn’t your typical soul man. Pass him on the streets of his native Colchester and you’d be forgiven if you took him for a bank clerk or a high school teacher – albeit trendy ones. But hear the man sing or see him perform and you’d revise your misplaced first impressions immediately. Hunter, you see, has a remarkable soul voice. It’s grittier and a tad rougher than Sam Cooke’s but in Hunter’s phrasing and laconic delivery you’ll hear much to recall soul’s true founding father. More, Hunter’s wistful guitar playing and his uncluttered song writing will call to mind early period Curtis Mayfield, when the Gentle Genius and his fellow Impressions were laying down one of soul’s most enduring templates. With such credentials, it’s little wonder that, when available, the Grammy-nominated Hunter is support artist of choice for people like Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Van Morrison. Surprisingly, though his previous album – ‘People Gonna Talk – was critically acclaimed as one of 2006’s best LPs, Hunter still remains something of a soul secret. With the release of this new set, however, that secret shouldn’t stay secretive much longer. Recorded in London’s famed Toe Rag Studio with analogue equipment, the music here is for real – no posing or posturing, but simple passion – soul as it was meant to be. The set begins with the busy, light, lilting title tune. Featuring zippy strings and Allen Toussaint on keys, the confection is Sam Cooke for the 21st century. Toussaint features on a couple of other cuts – the bluesy ‘Til The End’ and the rumba-funk of ‘Believe Me Baby’. That one’s a real foot-tapper as are the jumpy ‘Don’t Do Me No Favours’ and ‘She’s Got Away’ which calls to mind Ray Charles’ rockier moments. Hunter’s in more restrained mood on the summery and harmonic ‘Tell Her’, the almost Caribbean-flavoured ‘Carina’ and the just-guitar-accompanied ‘Strange But True.’ That one provides this deceptively simple soul set with a low key, but sweet ending which will make you wonder why Hunter and his music have remained so secret for so long.
(BB) 4/5