The James Hunter Six
Whatever It Takes
[Read Patrick Corcoran's interview with James Hunter here]
In an age of endless segues, guest spots from your favorite rapper and interminable filler swelling running times upwards of 70 minutes, there’s something to be said for an album that breezes in, beguiles you and departs, leaving you wanting more.
The James Hunter Six’s new (and sixth) album Whatever It Takes does that very thing, clocking in as it does at a small, but handsomely formed 27 minutes. The relatively brief running time for 10 tracks is perfectly in line with the music on offer too. Ploughing a furrow of late 1950s/early 1960s rhythm and blues, the band appear for the second time on Daptone Records, that most reverential and accomplished of retro soul labels.
It fits Hunter’s style like the snuggest glove imaginable too. More inclined to a blues solo than a funk workout, he has created ten beguiling slices of the kind of music that defined an era and birthed pretty much everything we hear today. But the magic ingredient here is the love that pours from the speakers. Just as love of the genre fuels Hunter’s writing, so Gabe Roth’s pitch perfect production creates an air of authenticity that allows the songwriting to blossom and thrive.
From the moment the saxophone seductively rumbas into view on opener and lead single “I Don’t Wanna Be Without You,” you know you’re in good hands. And then there’s Hunter’s voice, at once bristling with strength and vulnerability and full of character.
“I Got Eyes” jumps and bounds like a playful puppy and comes complete with some sterling guitar lines and a master class in James Brown inspired shrieking exhortation, while “MM-Hmm” gently sashays by before the Hammond organ led, walking blues instrumental of “Blisters” shakes things up. Sounding like an early Booker T and the M.G.’s cut, the change in tone and pace at the halfway point is well received.
“Show Her” meanders nicely enough, but “Don’t Let Pride Take You For A Ride” peps things up immediately with another jumping bean of a song. “How Long?” pairs acoustic guitar with a low key gospel inflection and sounds as if The Blind Boys of Alabama have tagged along for backing vocal duties—no mean feat. Finally “It Was Gonna Be You” channels Ben E. King and is winsomely romantic and delivered with such style and panache it’s impossible not to be left thoroughly charmed.
While it’s true to say that there’s nothing incendiary or groundbreaking here, it is also true that Whatever It Takes makes up for it in its purity of execution and wholehearted devotion to the cause. Lyrically things don’t extend beyond the musings of a star-crossed lover, but that in itself lends proceedings a certain charm.
In these deeply troubling times the fact that you can immerse yourself in the trials and tribulations of love, to the accompaniment of a pure R&B approach you’d expect to be dead and buried, lends an air of escapism to the whole album. A feeling that you’ve left this tumultuous world behind—if only for half an hour—lost in the transportable power of good music. Pretty darn good for a guy from Essex.
Notable Tracks: “Blisters” | “How Long” | “I Don’t Wanna Be Without You”