September 2006

James Hunter - People Gonna Talk
Rounder 11661-2187-2
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

James Hunter grew up in Colchester, Britain’s oldest recorded town, but he sounds as if he hailed from Chicago, Detroit, or another '60s soul-music Mecca. It is not surprising that an Englishman should make as good a soul record as People Gonna Talk, given the passion Brits have for American music. What is unexpected is that Hunter sings well enough to merit comparison with the musicians he so obviously loves.

A formative experience for Hunter was hearing a 78 of Jackie Wilson singing "Reet Petite"; his songwriting embraces the late-'50s and early-'60s soul of Wilson, Sam Cooke, and Ben E. King. There’s not much Southern-soul influence in People Gonna Talk, but Hunter does show a fondness for early James Brown, especially in the horn arrangements for "Riot In My Heart" and "No Smoke Without Fire." His band is precise and versatile, whether playing in the early funk style of Brown, or in the manner of Ray Charles’s sides for Atlantic ("Kick It Around").

That is not to say that Hunter is merely copying other musicians. It is more a matter of choosing his inspiration from less obvious sources. He recorded People Gonna Talk at London’s Toe Rag Studios, which prides itself on only using analog gear. It sounds terrific. Hunter’s voice is sharply centered in the mix, and the whole disc has a tube-glow warmth, with the instruments precisely placed in the soundstage.

Hunter is the real thing. And I didn't even get around to talking about his guitar playing.