MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris. When you listen to singer songwriter James Hunter's new CD, the music and the lyrics take you back in time to juke joints and Sam Cooke's 45
CD: You've got me so I can't help but fail. I can't watch both my head and tail. We'll I can't win baby. I can't win with you. Strike me dead if I don't love you, and I'll be dammed if I do.
NORRIS: So you might be surprised to learn that the man behind these songs has an English accent as thick as London Fog.
JAMES HUNTER: It's such a convention that no one notices it but everyone sings, in the popular realm of music, sings effectively in an American accent.
NORRIS: James Hunter's new CD is called People Gonna Talk. I recently talked with him about his music and how a kid who grew up in a cramped trailer near an onion patch in Colchester, England found his groove.
HUNTER: The earliest music and influences was basically a stack of 78's that we inherited from our grandmother who hadn't died, she just, well we just stole them off her basically and there was some sort of pre-Beatles rock and roll lurking about in there. You know, chief among them was a couple of Jackie Wilson's 78's. You know, which got me off to a good start really.
NORRIS: So Grandma was listening to a lot of Jackie Wilson?
HUNTER: She was pretty rocking, actually, yeah. 'Cause, you know, technically she was about 20 years too old to be into the rocking and stuff, you know.
NORRIS: Well, you know, a lot of, I guess, young men at that time would have gravitated toward rock and roll, but you sort of stayed with R&B.
HUNTER: I did. Do you know what I think it was? I think I stuck, mainly because the feel of it is just better, you know, groovier and slinkier. And I think I started calling the stuff I was into R&B and blues rather than having that retro stigma that is associated with calling it rock and roll. You know, you go no, no, I'm not rocking, I'm a, I'm a blues man, yes.
CD: Kick it around, tell me if you'll be mine. Kick it around in your own good time. Don't tell me now I know I'm on trial so kick it around for a while. Well I'll be your true lover. I'll take you for a ride. One way or the other, whatever you decide.
NORRIS: James, when you listen to this music it has a timeless quality. It is very present. It almost sounds like it was recorded decades ago, back in the 1950's.
HUNTER: It feels like it could be, but it still feels as if, I think I'm aiming that way so that it doesn't specifically have to have been then, you know. 'Cause when people do stuff that is up to the minute and state of art people call it, I mean, if something is of their time it becomes behind the time very quickly, you know. All the best music, you know, isn't stuck in one timeframe. You know, it carries on. I mean, nobody says that I've Got a Woman by Ray Charles, well that's no good, you know, it's 30 years old. You know, so the good stuff keeps there.
CD: Tell me just what happened. Let me get this down. But I'd better here the same thing when I ask around. No one's calling you a liar but there's no smoke without fire.
NORRIS: Some of the arrangements on the pieces are fairly complicated, and as I listened to this I was actually fairly surprised to realize that you were doing this mainly in one take, live recording.
HUNTER: Of course, yeah. It sounds, it sounds hard, you know, doing, because sometimes I do quite complicated fingers on the guitar while I'm doing it. But it's, somehow the more, sometimes the more you're doing, the easier each bit you are doing is. I mean, I've tried singing without a guitar and sometimes I'm like a bad actor who doesn't know what to do with his hands. You know, do I jam them in me pockets or what? You know, so, I think it gives you something to fidget around a bit while your singing and both the singing and guitar playing leave each other alone in a way. It's difficult to explain but it is quite a comfortable way of doing it especially when you're used to that.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NORRIS: You know James when you listen to the radio these days it seems like love songs, true love songs, are a thing of the past and your CD is full of songs that make you think about shark fin cars and Saturday night dances.
HUNTER: That's it.
NORRIS: Are you a romantic?
HUNTER: Uh, yeah.
NORRIS: I would take that from your music.
HUNTER: Yeah, I would. I mean, I'm a, what you call it? I'm a curable romantic, you know. There's lots...
NORRIS: And that means?
HUNTER: There is quite a lot of cynicism and sardonic kind of stuff going on in the songs, but the aspiration, you know, the sort of love, romance thing is very much there.
NORRIS: So there are a lot of please baby, please songs.
NORRIS: You love someone but you're not quite sure that...
HUNTER: Yes. There is a lot of.
NORRIS: It's coming back to you.
HUNTER: A girl did point this out to me, that a lot of my songs are asking the girl to make up her mind kind of thing. And she did say to me, why don't you write one where you haven't made your mind up yet and I've still yet to do that.
(soundbite of CD) Come on, come on, come on baby. My love's the strongest in the land. I don't want to hear no maybe, you've got my future in your hand.
NORRIS: I'm thinking about the song Talking About My Love.
HUNTER: Oh yeah.
(Soundbite of song Talking About My Love) Tell me I'm wrong to want to stand along side of my love. I'm talking about my, my love.
HUNTER: This is one of my favorites. It's a raver, it's, it's, ravers are the ones I not usually good at writing and it's something I'm getting better at.
HUNTER: Yeah, one you finish the, you finish the set with. You know, usually I use, you know, You Do What I Say or Let The Good Times Roll, something of other peoples'. The kind of thing I couldn't write. 'Cause I get, s a writer I am quite verbose, you know. And those really wordy songs you can't do as a screamer, you know. And that's an example of when I finally was able to write one.
NORRIS: So you're talking about the song when you come back for that last encore.
HUNTER: Exactly, yes.
NORRIS: And everybody's on their feet and you know you got to give them something good.
HUNTER: Yes, that's it. And, you know, now at last I can give them one of mine.
(Soundbite of Talking About My Love) My love. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
NORRIS: James Hunter thanks so much for coming in to talk to us.
HUNTER: Thank you for having me.
NORRIS: That's James Hunter. His new CD is People Gonna Talk. Snap your fingers to some more music at our website NPR.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)