One of Britain’s finest guitar players re-defines Rhythm and Blues for the cognoscenti
I first saw James Hunter thirty something years ago in a sweaty cellar when he was performing under the name Howlin’ Wilf and the Veejays I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since.
Hunter famously spent a few years as Van Morrison’s #1 guitar player but that was never going to be a long term career path for a songwriter of his repute and now; on his 8th album he just might have released his finest album to date. It could be argued that the singer sticks to a well worn formula; but that would be unfair; although he never strays too far from the classic R&B template made famous by Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett or even the Five Royals in the dim and distant past.
Never the most prolific of recording artists; this is James Hunter’s first album in five years and MINUTE BY MINUTE gets off to a rip roaring start with Chicken Switch that features some pretty funky guitar and saxophone interplay before the Essex songster lets us know that it’s sometimes ok to stop, and retreat when the going gets tough.
The title track, Minute by Minute has Kyle Koehler’s Hammond cutting through Badau and Hand’s sax’s on a slowish Blues that takes us as low and even ‘dirty’ as Hunter has ever got and boy; do the band sound like they’re enjoying themselves.
Apart from Koehler on organ the other four members of Hunter’s band have been with him for a lot of years and the second sight that this brings can be heard on every track.
One Way Love has a very 60’s Soul-Party feel to it; and that’s probably ace Daptone Record’s Producer Gabriel Roth’s signature coming to the fore and it just could be the song to get the James Hunter Six some serious airplay.
Although he spends a lot of time in the USA these days, this is the first album that Hunter has ever recorded there and Roth has carefully managed to capture the British ‘sharpness’ that the band are famous for, but effortlessly add in a archetypal US Soul sound that creates an unexpected but delightful groove from start to finish.
From the very first time I heard this album my stand out track has been The Gipsy which has a slight Caribbean beat to it; with Hunter’s voice dropping down the register to deliver one of his best ever vocal performances.
The album ends with a beautiful ballad; If I only Knew, that would have done Sam Cooke proud when he was in his heyday.
As existing fans will know the vast majority of songs here are about women in one form or another as the songwriter rings every emotion out of the listener with the greatest of ease and leaves us in no doubt that the world is a better place for having them in it.
What I like best about James Hunter’s albums is the way he uses the classic Rhythm and Blues formula but adds his own flashes of guitar and slides in the two saxophones, organ, double-bass and drums in an unspectacular, but very modern manner to create a timeless sound that will appeal to music fans and casual listeners in equal measures.
Released USA February 26th 2013
Released Worldwide March 25th 2013