The James Hunter Six/With Love/Daptone
3.5 Out of Five Stars
Listening to With Love, the new album by The James Hunter Six is a bit like stepping into a time machine and setting the controls back to the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. Echoes of Sam Cooke, The Coasters, Ben E. King, and other casual crooners of that earlier era have a prominent presence in the musical mix, even though Hunter himself needn’t rely on comparisons in order to establish his own identity. Though British-born, he’s obviously been inspired by his forebears, yet he’s not bound to them entirely.
That said, his early mentoring by Van Morrison helped pull him to prominence. After making his name on London’s club circuit, he came to Morrison’s attention, leading to Morrison’s occasional cameos on some of Hunter’s early albums. Hunter returned the favor by appearing on Morrison’s 1994 live effort, A Night in San Francisco, and the studio set, Days Like This, which followed a year after. That said, he isn’t tied to Morrison’s coattails. He was nominated for a Grammy for “Best Traditional Blues Album,” as well as for an American Music Award as “Best New/Emerging Artist,” both coming courtesy of 2006’s big breakthrough, the aptly titled People Gonna Talk.
Now, with four albums recorded under his own aegis and five by The James Hunter Six, Hunter has thoroughly established himself as one of the U.K.’s most prominent white soul singers. And while an album devoted entirely to love songs is hardly an adventurous move, With Love does find a prominent place in Hunter’s canon overall. His smooth, soulful vocals grace songs such as “Something’s Calling,” “Carina,” “It Was Gonna Be You” and so many more, while the saunter and sway found in “Heartbreak,” “Take It As You Find It” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Without You” convey the charm of an intimate evening in a darkly-lit club or cabaret. The arrangements delve decidedly into jazzier motifs, adding to the ambiance without overwhelming it completely. It’s a sound that’s captivating and compelling, soothing and seductive, yet still conveyed without any hint of posture or pretense.
In the end, Hunter’s supple style conveys an ageless charm, evocative of a more innocent age when popular music needed to be nothing more than an avenue for romance. Clearly then, With Love lives up to its intent.