Hold On The James Hunter Six Daptone Records
For someone who has supported the likes of Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison and Willie Nelson, James Hunter’s position at the forefront of contemporary rhythm and blues shouldn’t surprise; what often does surprise, however, is the fact his sublime voice hails not from some soul-dripped metropolis in the US, but Essex in Britain. Nominated for a Grammy in 2006 for his album People Gonna Talk, the British singersongwriter has long been lauded for his raw take on soul, so it’s fitting that his wonderful fourth album and follow-up to 2013’s Minute by Minute lands on Brooklyn’s Daptone imprint.
One gets the sense Hunter and Daptone label co-founder and producer Gabe Roth share similar passions for bygone recording techniques, judging by their efforts to fashion an album that sounds like it’s from another era. That’s not to say Hold On is bereft of modern production sparkle; it’s there, but understated. Hunter’s fine band wisely subscribes to the “less is more” maxim, interspersing tenor saxophone, organ, doublebass and drums sparingly so as to let Hunter’s gritty voice take pride of place. From the bossa nova rhythms and wistful backing vocals of This is Where We Come In to the strolling rhythm of closer In the Dark, Hunter captivates with his vocal edge and vivid songwriting about love, loss and life. In between, there are tracks such as A Truer Heart, permeated by horn stabs and harmonica, and Satchel Foot, a playful number that combines organ, stirring guitar warblings and, of course, horns to form a rolling groove.
If there’s one gripe, it’s that it’s all over too soon; 10 great songs vanish in a little more than 30 minutes. That said, Hold On shines a spotlight on a troubadour at the top of his game, aided by a band that knows its role is to enable, not engulf.