Simplicity is often the most important key to a sound musical project. Take for example the album “Let it Be” by the Beatles, which, although still a fantastic record, is fairly criticized for its abundant use of melodramatic orchestra instruments and chamber choirs. The extravagant mixing of the LP prompted Paul McCartney decades later to produce a stripped-down version, dubbed “Let it Be Naked”, which placed a greater emphasis on voice and writing, rather than dramatic.
This lesson has not been lost on James Hunter. With his latest release, “Whatever It Takes”, Hunter has distilled the finest aspects of 1950’s and 60’s pop music into a tight ten-song LP about, what else, love. This topic is not hindrance however, as its general nature is perfect for producing enjoyable, mindless songs to dance to at any of your local sock hops or soda fountains. Each tune never outstays its welcome either, as none of them exceed the four-minute mark. This seems to be a conscious choice on the part of Hunter, as it keeps the energy of the album consistently enthralling, even amongst the occasional sober composition.
The album is not only outstanding from a purely melodic perspective, but also highly admirable in the fact that Hunter manages to make his sextet sound as full as the best of big bands. The drums are never dull, the saxophones are never roaring, and Hunter’s own voice is never faltering. The James Hunter Six may as well have been called such because Hunter’s vocal delivery is as powerful as six ordinary rock and roll singers. Best of all, Hunter’s dynamic voice is all natural. What you hear you on the record is what you hear in real life.
The James Hunter Six perform “Baby (Hold on)” in 2015
Nowhere are Hunter’s abilities better demonstrated than in the song “Don’t Let Pride Take You for a Ride.” Throughout the two-and-a-half-minute number, Hunter croons about letting go of petty arguments and forgiving the woman you love. The lyrics are universal and not especially unique; however, Hunter’s performance is nothing short of eclectic. During the verses, Hunter’s delivery brings to mind a mix of Van Morrison and Huey Lewis. Rough and charismatic, Hunter’s style is simply dripping with passion and honesty; so much so, that one has no choice but to believe Hunter means every word he belts out. As the song reaches its apex, Hunter once again tops himself by channeling the late Charles Bradley. His voice, once endearingly coarse and melodic, transforms immediately into a rhythmic, soulful scream that lasts until Hunter brings out his guitar for one final, searing solo.
Hunter’s guitar prowess is further showcased in the instrumental track “Blisters.” Boasting a suave backbeat, Hunter rips note after note in typical BB King style, before giving way to a smooth and skillful saxophone solo. With some bum notes tossed in here and there, as well as an absolutely grimy guitar tone, the track sounds like it was ripped straight out of a James Hunter Six jam session. The imperfection here is what makes the song so captivating, however, as it serves in stark contrast with the immaculate tightness of the other nine tracks. While most of the album clearly demonstrates that James Hunter is a consummate musical professional, “Blisters” shows he can also have fun while being one.
For a light-hearted twenty-seven-minute listen, “Whatever It Takes” is the perfect soundtrack. Nothing new is necessarily offered by the James Hunter Six, however, they have done the listener a service in that they have essentially produced a “best of the 50’s and 60’s” rock and roll album. James Hunter truly put his heart and soul into the production of this album and accomplished his goal of making the genre he loves accessible to a new generation.