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People Gonna Talk by James Hunter

In recent years, there seems to be a greater "above-ground," i.e., not limited to die-hard fans and collectors, awareness and appreciation of "roots music." It includes folk, bluegrass, less commercial vectors of country music and today's subject, rhythm & blues, also known by those over 30 or so as "soul music.". Iconic performers such as Solomon Burke and Betty LaVette are enjoying higher profiles in America than they had in years. The Brits and European fans don't care if you haven't had a hit record in 25 or so years. Then there are younger performers who are inspired by their music and by Otis Redding, Don Covay, James Carr, Curtis Mayfield and others. Some settle for being revivalists or keepers of the flame, not that there's anything wrong with that, and others who go for making their own mark, fashioning their own personal variant on classic sounds.

Which brings us to the UK singer James Hunter. Before you look at the cover and assume, "ah, just another Robert Palmer-type guy," don't. This guy is the real thing. He's a smooth-with-a-slight-rasp voice, recalling some of the old masters, especially Ray Charles in his more restrained moments (and Sam Cooke, Van Morrison 1965-71, pre-disco era Boz Scaggs, plus a soupcon of Otis R) and a sharp, ultra-economic take on American R&B circa 1959-1967.

The setup on the disc is simply him on guitar, 2 horns, bass, drums,plus occasional organ and strings. Being from the UK, reggae (specifically rock-steady and ska, the rootsy predecessors to modern reggae) exerts a considerable influence, too, and there's a bit of Magic Sam Chicago West Side Soul eased into the equation.

The great thing about Hunter, aside from the fact he's a hell of a singer in the classic R&B mold and wrote all the mostly memorable selections, is his restraint. Hunter doesn't fall all over himself (and you) trying to prove how gosh-awful, boisterously "soulful" he is. He's got some of that dignified, self-assured without-being-arrogant Jerry Butler iceman-cool in his approach. It's that tantalizing temperance along with.... what did they call it, decades ago.... talent that makes People Gonna Talk a platter to return to again & again.

No, there's nothing edgy or "innovative" here, but hey, creativity and originality don't always go together, right? If they did, I could retire on the profits from my invention "quadraphonic pizza." If you think they don't make 'em like that, you know, the pre-1969 Southern R&B gods, anymore, well then straighten up and fly right with the Hunter and rejoice.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: James Hunter
  • CD Title: People Gonna Talk
  • Genre: Blues
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Rounder
  • Rating: Five Stars
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