Thursday, January 28, 2010

James Hunter - The Hard Way


Listening to The Hard Way is a bit like dropping into an episode of Mad Men.  James Hunter effortlessly recreates the feeling of early-60s smooth American white-people's music - although sometimes with a hint of dangerous rock-and-or-roll.  It just makes me want to reach for a pitcher of martinis and light up a Lucky Strike.

Just how good is that show, anyway?  And what is it about American TV in the Noughties that it reinvented itself with these OMG scripts and fuck-off acting?  Right now I'm panting for the DVD of the latest series - too long to wait for it to be screened in the Antipodes.  But I'm also enjoying Dexter, as mentioned in our sidebars, and we just gulped down the entire four series of The Wire available here, plus the sheer excellence of Breaking Bad.... and we're still waiting for more spin-off goodness of Battlestar Galactica after the series ended (sob).

It used to be US television was far inferior to the British product.  But now YourZ and Mine(self) spend time nudging each other over the excellent sets and furnishings in Mad Men (we're both Eames-era junkies) - or gripping our seats in the rollercoaster writing of Breaking Bad - or checking our watches to see if we can squeeze in just one more episode of The Wire before bedtime.

But all this isn't telling you how I feel about this album.  And I'm not as passionate about it as I am about Mad Men.  I guess I don't mind it - but frankly I'd rather listen to some recordings of music from back in the day - like my Stax Collection - rather than new music sounding like it was recorded back in the day.  Oh, but that doesn't include Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, who can play at any party I throw from now till whenever.



I'm a sucker.  Just ask Mine.  She probably has countless examples of why I am, of this I have no doubt.  But at least I know what I am.  This can go part way to help alleviating losing great amounts of hard earned dollars to snake oil salesmen or con artists trying to sell me national monuments.  But put a pretty girl behind a counter who knows how to use her, erm, charms, and I've already paid for whatever she's trying to sell.

Such was the case when I walked into my local music store and the young, firm beauty behind the counter was sashying around while listening to The Hard Way.  In other circumstances, things might have gotten embarrassingly hard indeed.  Thank goodness for air conditioning and a modicum of self-control, let me tell ya.  The end result was predictable though; I walked out of the store with this CD in my hot and somewhat sweaty palms.

James Hunter is a Englishman who sounds like a lot of the old soul and RnB singers (the first, true and only RnB as far as I'm concerned).  He sounds like a lot of the music my parents loved and listened to when I was growing up, music I find weirdly comforting, given I'm generally a rock pig.  Hunter is talented, unpretentious and in possession of a very fine soul voice.  But what really sets him apart is he not only writes all of his own songs but he plays a mean guitar too.  The authenticity is undeniable and he has garnered fans in people such as Willy Nelson, Chris Isaak and Van Morrison, as well as nominations for a number of the more prestigious music awards.

Personally, I like the ska flavour of Carina, the rockin' Don't Do Me No Favours (the yelps he pulls off in this are pure joy) and the bossanova-flavoured She's Got A Way.  But it's the last track, Strange But True, which comprises only Hunter's vocals and an acoustic guitar that stays with me long after this recording finishes. 

As Mine said, this music would have no problem finding a home in the soundtrack of Mad Men.  Sure, it might have been done before, but James Hunter has a way of making it his own and wow, daddio, what a way it is.

VERDICT: TURN IT UP, shake up a dry martini and shimmy 'till dawn

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