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 will soon have that opportunity with Hunter's debut release on GO Records/Rounder Records, scheduled for release on March 7, 2006.
People Gonna Talk 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, (also home to Elephant by The White Stripes), where vintage analogue equipment has captured the warmth of Hunter's authentic and heartfelt sensibilities. Without headphones, without separating musicians, without any digital enhancements or computers, the entire band, (including Hunter on vocals and guitar), played together live in the same room. "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 50's and early 60's 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. He even incorporates a smooth ska beat on the title track, People Gonna Talk, which gives the song a classic, warm rhythmic feel.
But don't tell Hunter that the album's 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.
It was this timeless appeal that caught the attention of Kimberly Guise and Jonathan Otto in New York who were introduced to Hunter by Steven Erdman. Over ten years ago, Erdman discovered Hunter who was busking on a street corner in Camden Town, London. Still a good friend and champion of Hunter's music, in March 2003 Erdman brought the 5-piece band over from London to play at a private party. Shocked that Hunter had not been snatched up by a major record label, GO Records was quickly formed with the sole purpose of recording Hunter's original material. The arrangement appears to have paid off, as even Hunter is rumored to be quite gleeful about how the album turned out. GO Records partnered with Rounder Records to release the album in the United States.
Hunter is certainly 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 90's 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. Hunter continues to appear as a musical guest at Morrison shows, most recently in March 2004 at a concert in York, England where the two performed a duet of Things I Used To Do by Guitar Slim.
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 50's 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."