The James Hunter Six/Lee Carroll’s Ethos Quintet
You get a clear image of where The James Hunter Six operates from, as well as a sense of the temperament fueling its music, as soon as the needle drops on the band’s 2018 album “Whatever It Takes.”
The immediate mood is transportive. It sends you somewhere between late ‘50s/early ‘60s soul styles that were American in origin but simmered with British cool, and the dawn of the ‘80s, when so many racially mixed new generation bands of the often-termed “two-tone” movement found a new place, purpose and audience for those sounds.
The groove on the album-opening “I Don’t Wanna Be Without You” sways with the kind of scholarly horn/keyboard reserve and neo-lounge rhythms that have become the primary bill-of-fare for Daptone Records, the celebrated indie soul label that was home to the late Sharon Jones. It’s also responsible for the release of “Whatever It Takes” and The James Hunter Six’s equally appealing 2016 predecessor “Hold On!” Then Hunter enters with a voice that reaches easily into expectedly high, soul-savvy registers while maintaining a level of earthy chill.
It’s a pretty masterful sound that The James Hunter Six, especially on the two Daptone albums, flaunts without hesitation. The music might shift from the punctuated pop soul of “I Got Eyes” (from “Whatever It Takes”) to the Otis Redding-channeled stride of “Stranded” (from “Hold On!”). But, again, this is elemental music with a distinctly British tone. It echoes Hunter’s days as an Essex youth before a blooming career gained the ear of Van Morrison, who featured him on tour and on the mid ‘90s albums “A Night in San Francisco” and “Days Like These.”
Hunter’s easygoing but authoritative vocals may be the band’s focal point, but the Six’s instrumental drive is equally integral to such a rich yet tasteful British soul sound. Just check out tunes on the Daptone albums where the singer sits out – specifically, the sleek hullabaloo party piece “Satchelfoot” and the blues/Booker T and the MGs-ish mash-up “Blisters.”
Ultimately, though, The James Hunter Six doesn’t play like a band concerned with image, which is why, despite the many vintage inspirations within its music, the band doesn’t come off sounding like another retro soul troupe.
“Today, we get people at our shows who see themselves as kinds of experts in this genre of music,” Hunter told me in an interview prior to a 2016 performance for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. “But it’s always more refreshing when somebody comes along and goes, ‘I don’t know what the hell that was you were playing, but I enjoyed it.”
For the better part of his career, Jimmie Vaughan has been a star – a Lone Star, that is. Specifically, the guitarist has served as one of the foremost ambassadors of Texas blues music.
To a degree, that’s understandable. As a founding member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the guitarist took the blues, rock and soul sounds brewing around the band’s home base of Austin to the rest of the world. The Thunderbirds even made it as far as Rupp Arena, where it shared a bill with Bob Seger in 1987.
The Texas connection also ran in the family. His younger brother was a guitar revolutionary by the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
But in recent years – particularly since 2011 – Vaughan has let wider, more traditionally minded inspirations fuel a series of splendid independent albums. His two most recent works reflect the depth of his renewed adoration for the blues.
The 2017 release “Live at C-Boy’s” features organist Mike Flanigan and the late drummer Frosty Smith as Vaughan’s only accompanists. What results is a loose but profoundly soulful concert performance that turns a blues chestnut like “Saint James Infirmary” into a ghostly, churchy trio stroll and a roots rock staple like “Hey! Baby” into a joyous, New Orleans-style rumble. But Vaughan’s slinky guitar runs during a slow, glowing version of “Cleo’s Mood” steals this late night-flavored outing.
The new “Baby, Please Come Home” album opens the instrumentation by tempering the keyboards and adding tasteful horn charts on chestnut tunes penned or popularized by the likes of Lloyd Price, Fats Domino, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, T-Bone Walker, Etta James and more.
Among the album’s many highlights is a take on Jimmy Reed’s “Baby, What’s Wrong” that rolls with the kind of effortless groove and shuffle that only a road warrior of the blues can muster.
Vaughan will play in Lexington for the first time in seven years as part of Monday’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour.