British musician James Hunter makes a virtue of his consistent devotion to midcentury R&B and early soul | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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British musician James Hunter makes a virtue of his consistent devotion to midcentury R&B and early soul


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On James Hunter’s recent Whatever It Takes (Daptone) a brief liner note by pianist Sam Boncon delivers some straight talk that might seem like a dis in most contexts: “There’s nothing new here.” Indeed, not only does the album sound of a piece with his last four, it remains easy to think that the British soul devotee made this collection six decades ago; he elegantly collides influences like Ray Charles, Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke, and Freddie King for a rippling old-school R&B record that crackles with ease and concision. The mono recording fits neatly into the Daptone aesthetic—even if its sources are rooted further in the past than those of label staples such as Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley—and Bosco Mann (aka Gabriel Roth) expertly produced the record with the imprint’s typical clarity and punch. Hunter’s creamy rasp is as effective as ever, and he delivers his sophisticated melodies with a relaxed swagger punctuated by abraded falsetto cries and wordless extrapolations. There’s a touch of Benny Spellman in his slinking “Show Her,” with his deft twin-saxophone section plaintively answering his testifying at every turn. Though the focus remains on Hunter’s singing, his guitar playing demands attention too; the instrumental “Blisters” is an organ-stoked shuffle in which his single-note runs sting and slash with a slightly rude tonal flair that cuts against the grain of today’s rock-sopped blues sound.   v

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