27 Feb 2018

Whatever It Takes by James Hunter

From The Sampler, 7:30 pm on 27 February 2018

Nick Bollinger reviews the latest set from Colchester soul man James Hunter.

James Hunter

James Hunter Photo: supplied

Here’s an artist who seems to have found a moment in musical history and decided to live there.

With those rim-shots, that Latin-tinged beat, twin saxophones and a fervent vocal, these could be some lost soul sides from the 60s. Only it’s not a compilation of 60s soul but rather the new album from the James Hunter Six.

Whatever It Takes

Whatever It Takes Photo: supplied

That Hunter can recreate so convincingly this pocket in time is impressive. Even more surprising is that his place of origin is a long way from this music’s African American roots. Hunter comes from Colchester, in southeast England, a place not renowned for any kind of music I could think of. When I asked Hunter a few years ago who else had ever come from Colchester he could name only The Cleaners From Venus, a quirky indie pop outfit who released most of their music on cassette.

As for Hunter, his interest in blues and soul began when he was growing up in the early 70s. In the 80s he played in Camden blues band Howlin’ Wilf and the Vee-Jays, and in the 90s did a stint in Van Morrison’s group. But it’s in the past decade that he’s established his own name with his particular take on R&B.

Though Hunter can muster plenty of grunt in the vocal department, one of his strengths is the in the unforced nature of the backings. His band aren’t strident but rather play with an understated swingy-ness, and the occasional use of organ and vibraphone just adds to the cool jazziness of the whole thing.

I’m reminded of Georgie Fame, perhaps the most sophisticated and soulful of the 60s English R&B interpreters. Listening to this album it’s easy to imagine oneself in some hip London speakeasy or discotheque circa 1965.

Hunter is also a snappy, sneaky guitarist, which he proves on a riotous instrumental that he calls – for obvious reasons – ‘Blisters’.

Recording to analogue tape gives Hunter’s sound that extra 60s patina, and his whole aesthetic makes him a perfect fit for the Daptone label – original home of neo-soul proponents like Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones – for which this is his second album.

Whatever It Takes sustains its mood of hipster soul for its succinct 30 minutes. If it has any shortcomings, they are in the songwriting, which is accomplished but leans towards the generic.

Then again, if anyone can turn a cliché into a soulful homily, James Hunter seems to have the knack.

Whatever It Takes is available on Daptone