Taking vocal cues from Sam Cooke and James Brown and wrapping them in the cozy warmth of deep saxophone sounds, James Hunter has revived the soul music of the early 1960s with elan and substance.
The Brit arrives here with the endorsement of his former boss, Van Morrison, a sharp and sultry debut album (“People Gonna Talk” on Rounder) and a stage show that could have played Vegas and Beale Street four decades ago.
Cheerful and boyish — and fronting a band that has the look of an Animals-inspired unit in 1965 — Hunter works in compact tunes that leave the listener always hoping for the groove to keep going. His twist is to add a little ska or a shuffle the way Rosco Gordon did on his early Memphis recordings or bring out intense, clipped guitar leads and turn a tune bluesward.
Last year’s fine Cooke reissue series from Abkco included live discs that demonstrated the gospel-trained singer’s many facets. Hunter understands those roots as well as any Cooke disciple, black or white, yet he succeeds in escaping the trap of mimickry or subservience to the original sound.
He has penned gems — the title track and “Mollena,” though all his tunes have merit — and he is venturing into swampier terrain by lifting the “Treat Her Right” groove for the new tune “Don’t Do Me No Favor.”.
Already an artist who seemingly impresses everyone who hears his album, live show at a packed Mint proves he has more sides than the record suggests. Just like a Cooke record.