Music News & Reviews

Nothing new here but some great British pop and soul from The James Hunter Six

James Hunter.
James Hunter.

The almost apologetic liner notes to “Whatever It Takes,” the newest vintage flavored pop/soul platter by the James Hunter Six, set the stage for the music within: “There’s nothing new here.” But for the Essex-born Hunter, consistency remains an undeniable virtue.

The 10 original tunes that make up “Whatever It Takes” adhere to the same previous three records cut by the James Hunter Six as well as most of the works the singer and guitarist pursued on his own over the past two decades. Specifically, Hunter is a stylist of traditional soul and R&B, not just in the modestly rough-hued contours of his crooning, but in the sleek, brass-savvy arrangements and the subtle rhythmic grind of his compositions.

This isn’t robust, combustible soul, but rather music often bathed in a sense of orchestral cool that might be dismissed as fashionably retro had the songs not been arranged and executed so organically. Credit much of that to the soul credibility of Daptone Records (specifically the production and engineering team of Bosco Mann and Gabriel Roth) that also co-piloted the career of the late, great Sharon Jones.

James Hunter Six - Whatever it Takes cover

But Hunter has ample say in the design. As a singer, he combines traditional R&B devotion with a dose of lounge-flavored flair, as in the album opening “I Don’t Wanna Be Without You” and the decidedly Sam Cooke slant of “Show Her.” He can croon and shriek with the best soul bombardiers, as shown during “Don’t Let Pride Take You for a Ride,” where a string of single line, love bug credos (“You’re prospects ain’t so hot when independence is all you got”) are fueled by a vocal dervish where Hunter’s proselytizing is anchored by Jordanaires-style back up.

But for all of the American inspiration sitting at the core of this music, Hunter’s stylistic compass stays locked on his homeland. The entire atmosphere of “Whatever It Takes” is decidedly British, whether it’s in the dash of post punk immediacy in his singing (you hear a hint of Ian Dury in his vocals) or the exactness and reserve of saxophonists Lee Badau and Damian Hand, whose unison playing isn’t all that removed from the ska-infused charts of Brit’s famed two-tone sound from decades past.

All of these elements come into play during “I Got Eyes.” Here, the tempo accelerates as Hunter’s vocal phrasing jumps in and around the song’s punctuated brass, vibraphone cool and organ buzz. Then as the traffic jam yields and the music fades, the vocal squeals start hitting you in succession like the bursts of a siren from a passing police car.

The only problem with “Whatever It Takes” is brevity. The album is over and done with in under a half hour. There is a simple remedy for that, though. Just hit the repeat button and let Hunter’s British pop-soul party ignite all over again.