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Anyone who's seen or heard JAMES HUNTER perform is already hip to his remarkable talents as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter. This includes Van Morrison who asserts, "James is one of the best voices, and best kept secrets, in British R'n'B and Soul. Check him out." Audiences have had that opportunity with Hunter's debut release on GO Records/Rounder Records.
People Gonna Talk (released on March 7, 2006) features 14 original tracks written and arranged by Hunter, who partnered with producer Liam Watson to create a wonderfully rich, classic soul sound. The album was recorded at Watson's Toe Rag Studios in East London, where vintage analog equipment could capture the warmth of Hunter's authentic and heartfelt sensibilities. "There's a lot of 'fake perfection' in music that's being recorded nowadays that comes from the hours and hours spent constructing performances in the studio," says Watson. "This is a very real performance that reflects the real James Hunter with his band. I think audiences will appreciate that quality in his music when they listen to the record."
There's no denying that Hunter's musical style harkens back to the days of classic '50s and early '60s R&B. What's remarkable is that the same timeless quality can exist in music that is being written, performed, and recorded today. Hunter's voice is smooth, brilliantly controlled, and unapologetic. Through his infectious vocal and guitar performances, clever songwriting, and tight horn arrangements, Hunter proves to be a man of impeccable taste who has learned from his influences rather than simply imitating them.
But don't tell Hunter that the album was a throwback to any era gone by. "I feel this music is as relevant for people today as it would've been 40 years ago," he explains. "It has a groove that makes people feel good - it makes girls want to dance. What's retro or old-sounding about that?" So call it what you want. Retro. Old School. New. Hip. Hunter delivers his impassioned vocals with such authority and freedom that his observations on romance take on an aura of timeless authenticity.
Producer Liam Watson, who shares an appreciation for the R&B sounds of the '50s and '60s, opened Toe Rag Studios in 1992 to capture the lush sounds that many argue can only be captured using vintage analog equipment. With many releases to his credit, Watson's notoriety skyrocketed with the smash hit success of The White Stripes' 2003 Grammy-winning, platinum-certified album, Elephant. In working with Hunter, Watson felt it was important to record the album live. "When I say live, that includes the lead singing," explains Watson. "Everything is basically recorded at the same time in the same room. It's a way of recording that isn't so common nowadays, but a long time ago, that was the norm. So we've kind of recorded in an old fashioned way, because for the type of music that James does, it's the most sympathetic way of making a record." To capture Hunter's vocal performances, Watson used what he regards as one of the best four or five microphones ever made, an AKG microphone called the C12. "James has a wonderful tone and the C12 really suits him. I don't use that mike for just anyone," says Watson. "He's also a very good guitar player and can pull off some really weird stuff while he's singing."
Hunter is no stranger to the studio. In 1996, Ace Records released Hunter's solo debut, Believe What I Say, featuring guest appearances by Van Morrison and the late Doris Troy. In 2001, Boz Boorer, Morrissey's lead guitarist and musical director, stepped in to produce Hunter's sophomore solo album, Kick it Around, on the German label Ruf Records. Hunter initially hooked up with Van Morrison back in the early '90s after Morrison, tipped off by an enthusiastic Hunter fan at a newsstand in London, went to hear Hunter perform at a gig in Wales. Hunter subsequently toured extensively with Morrison, singing alongside such luminaries as John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Georgie Fame. He is featured on Morrison's live album A Night in San Francisco and the studio recording Days Like This.
Born in Colchester, England, Hunter was drawn to the sounds of R&B at an early age, perhaps for lack of options. "When I was nine, my parents moved into this caravan in Thorrington, outside Colchester. It was this poxy little caravan, old and knackered, with me and my brother stuck in one half of it and Mum and Dad sleeping in the living room. We had a radio and there wasn't much interesting on that, and my grandmother gave us an old gramophone and a heap of 78s - all '50s stuff. I just acquired the taste for stuff around that age - we had Jackie Wilson's Reet Petite and lots of other Rock 'n Roll in its earliest form. It was a great treat for us to be allowed to listen every now and then, because there wasn't a lot of room in that place. It was in the middle of an onion field."
James Hunter has toured extensively on the club and festival circuits in London and across Europe. His natural ability as singer and guitarist brings added excitement to his music, evidenced by the frenzy he can stir up among hardened gig-goers and young hipsters alike. About the frenzies, Hunter concludes, "It's simple really - it's music you can groove to."