James Hunter and the Sound of '60s Soul

Tuesday's Pick

  • Song: "Carina"
  • Artist: James Hunter
  • CD: The Hard Way
  • Genre: Soul
James Hunter 300

"Carina" helps cement James Hunter's place among great U.K. interpreters of American soul music. Chris Ramirez hide caption

itoggle caption Chris Ramirez

English soul singer James Hunter experienced a belated U.S. breakthrough two years ago with People Gonna Talk, a slice of '60s-era soul so eerily authentic-sounding, it didn't seem fair to peg him as a "revivalist." The writing and arranging on that album were airtight, pointing up the hard-won experience that belied the Van Morrison-endorsed singer-guitarist's speedy ascent. In fact, Hunter's songs and sound have remained remarkably unchanged since his 1996 U.K. debut, ...Believe What I Say; several tracks from that album and its 2001 follow-up were even re-recorded for People Gonna Talk.

"Carina" isn't a re-recording, but it might as well be. Bearing the name of an old girlfriend and recorded for Hunter's new album The Hard Way, it's a dead ringer for People Gonna Talk's title track. Both are mid-tempo torch songs wherein vintage ska rhythms uphold Motown melodies, pizzicato strings, and Hunter's voice, reminiscent of Sam Cooke with a few more degrees of wear-and-tear. That alone would have been enough, but Hunter throws in a crucial curveball with a series of whimsical pedal-steel fills, evoking a ghostly pang of nostalgia akin to Santo & Johnny's "Sleep Walk."

Aside from that American aberration, the song (and album) further cements Hunter's place among great U.K. interpreters of American R&B. This is mod soul that sounds as enticing on the first play as it does on the 100th, and thankfully the late-blooming crooner isn't about to overhaul his brand of R&B at this point. As he sings here, "Good things will come to those who wait."

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