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James Hunter: WXPN's March 2006 Artist to Watch

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&B and Soul. Check him out." {readmorelink}Read More...{/readmorelink}

Audiences will soon have that opportunity with Hunter's debut release, People Gonna Talk, on GO/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 inherent to the R&B innovators, including Sam Cooke, Bobby Bland and Ray Charles, 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.

James Hunter Q&A with XPN's Bruce Warren

James, congratulations on your album. There's a local Philly connection to the making of this record. What's the connection and how did it come about?

Kimberly Guise, who is 50% of GO records, was born in Philadelphia and made the decision to make it the part-time base of operations shortly after the album was completed.

You made a classic soul and R&B album. Who are some of your favorite musicians or songwriters in soul and R&B?

My favorite writers are Lowman Pauling of the 5 Royales and Smokey Robinson.

What were some early R&B and soul records that you used to listen to?

"Lonely Teardrops" by Jackie Wilson and "For Your Precious Love" (Jerry Butler and the Impressions) - if Jerry Butler's never made a better record than that, he can content himself that neither has anyone else!

How about straight ahead blues artists? Any particular ones that you really like?

Little Walter. I like the jazzy, laid-back feel of his records.

Here's a tough question: In the entire body of pop music is there a song you wished you'd have written? Okay, you can name a couple.

"What's So Good About Goodbye" (Smokey Robinson) - actually I DID write it, but a few years after he did.

Another might be "You're the One that I Want" - on the other hand, it might not be.

You've performed with Van Morrison. How did you wind up working with him?

A cruel quirk of fate (for him, that is) -we played at the Kings Hotel in Newport (Wales) which was owned by a mate of his. A nice feller called Mac. It's possibly the only 5-star hotel in the world that has Jerry Lee Lewis and Joe Turner tracks playing in the lift!

Has Van ever given you any advice?

Only once. We were crossing the road near Maida Vale, London. and I nearly got run over. He said something along the lines of "watch it."

Have you ever given Van any advice? Is it even possible to give a guy like Van Morrison advice?

I dimly recall I did, but he wisely disregarded it.

If you weren't a musician, what do you think you'd be doing?

I'd still be working for British Railways. They owe their excellent safety record to my decision to pursue a career in music

Finally, I understand you've been living in Philly for a while. What do you like best about the city so far?

Motorists aren't as keen to run you over as they are in London, there's some nice looking girls, and you can't get cheesesteaks in London!


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