THE JAMES HUNTER SIX
Whatever It Takes (Daptone)
Not quite smooth, not exactly rock’n’roll, not entirely soul, not completely English or American, not to be missed.
James Hunter and his pack of almost-street toughs, who happen to play like a 1960s soul band masquerading as a ‘50s lounge band, might nick your lunch money in the morning but they’d buy you a beer in the evening and croon arm-in-arm with you as the joint closes much, much later.
Still drawing from the Five Royales and Sam Cooke, still throwing some Scotty Moore/James Burton shapes, still feeling like the companion band to Nick Lowe’s modern incarnation, the Six can do tight dance moves in I Got Eyes, where you feel like you should put on a tight, shiny suit and spin on your toes like you always dreamt you could, as easily as they encourage drape trousers/skirt-spinning jiving in Don’t Let Pride Take You For A Ride.
They can be sweet and coo-ing, like the double-brass/half-speed of I Should’ve Spoke Up and the smooth ride of MM-Hmm, and when they want to get some coordinated moves on the dancefloor (and maybe some duckwalking on stage) they can throw the stride-and-glide of Blisters at you, Hunter’s guitar doing some dirty.
This is rhythm and blues, rather than what anyone these days calls R&B. Earthy but dressed for flair, the Six can be subtly sexy even when straightforwardly romantic in I Don’t Wanna Be Without You, and supple even when lifting straight from the choir stalls in How Long. And that goes for their backing vocals as much as their playing.
It’s where Lee Badau’s baritone saxophone plays heavy to the more tempestuous tenor of Damian Hand, their interplay a game-within-a-game in most songs. And where Hunter’s slightly husky voice, that can sound like someone who was a hod carrier rather than some parlour swain, can still trill in near-falsetto in It Was Gonna Be You and reach for proto-soul in Whatever It Takes.
Meanwhile, if you’re a believer that brevity is the best route, these ten songs are mostly under three minutes and the you’ve hit play again before you’ve even heard the fade out of that final track.
As that annoying 20something bloke taking your order is prone to say, too easy.