The Hard Way

James Hunter is the British retro-R&B singer who updates with uncanny skill the sound of Sam Cooke or Ben E. King. His new album, The Hard Way, demonstrates that his talents as a songwriter and musician have depth and charm.

A native of Colchester, England, Hunter has been playing music and performing for twenty years, but it was only in the mid-90s before he got a boost by Van Morrison, who asked Hunter to open for a tour. Hunter and Morrison appeared on each other's records, but that still wasn't enough to get the singer much notice here in the U. S. That didn't happen until his third album, 2006's People Gonna Talk, which received widespread distribution in the states for the first time and was subsequently nominated for a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album.

His new follow-up continues his love affair with old-school R&B, typefied by catchy choruses and laid-back grooves that always keep Hunter's expressive voice the center of attention. Those who enjoyed the pizzicato strings which distinctively punctuated "People Gonna Talk" will cheer their return on songs like "Carina" on the new album. And the song "She's Got a Way" has a Ray Charles-like flair, with a sound that recalls "What I'd Say" if perhaps backed by Booker T & the M.G.s.

Hunter is not only a favorite of music listeners, but he's a musician's musician. He's a got quite a few fans with names you know well. Besides being a protege of sorts to Van Morrison, his supporters include Chris Isaak, he asked Hunter to open for him on an upcoming U.S. tour in August. Isaak says, "I was a James Hunter fan the minute I heard him sing. I think it would be a safe bet to guess he has some Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson records laying on his coffee table at home, but when he is singing he sounds like nobody but James Hunter."

And New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint is also a fan, even performing on two of the new album's songs. Hunter has said of Toussaint, "We thought, well, he'd be a good bloke to ask, especially because he practically invented the style I sort of play in."

Hunter says that he kind of likes being part of as growing wave of retro-R&B revivalists in England, including Amy Winehouse, Duffy, and Adele. He thinks that it's a sort of affirmation that the style is timeless and well-rooted in music history.

Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director/Midday Host