No, not James “Catfish” Hunter
For those familiar with my tastes, it was no surprise I was quickly obsessed with James Hunter (myspace). I grew up on a steady diet of oldies radio and I’ve come back to a lot of that music in the last few years, especially soul, Motown, Phil Spector, Sam Cooke, girl groups and other early R&B groups.
I got Hunter’s the Hard Way, out June 10 on Hear Music, a few weeks ago now and I keep coming back to his blue-eyed soul and liking it as much as on the first listen. The album is made of old-sounding songs hearkening back to the ’50s and ’60s, but within that sort of broad categorization, it’s actually pretty eclectic. Some songs are latin-influenced pop, with sounds like those Phil Spector employed frequently. Others have a very old-school R&B sound to them, like Big Maybelle. There are moments that remind me of Sam Cooke and others that remind me of some non-soul oldies.
It’s an album with a breadth of songs but they are also of consistently really high quality. The songwriting, orchestration and singing are great across the board.
One of the songs on the Hard Way is “Class Act” with the unsurprising chorus line “You’re a real class act”. Excellent song. I was listening to it the other day and it dawned on my that James Hunter is a real class act. While you could call his sound a gimmick, these are not cheap thrills he’s offering here. For a couple decades he’s been making music like this; he’s not some young kid appropriating sounds of a different time or place for profit. And the music he’s making is so right: put this in line with his influences and you could easily mistake it for something from that time period. But this is not merely some good and accurate imitation, but rather something that is itself imitable.
James Hunter – Hand It Over (mp3, from the forthcoming the Hard Way)
James Hunter – Talkin’ ’bout My Love (mp3, from People Gonna Talk)
Tickets are on sale now for his July date in San Francisco (I’ve bought mine):
7/11 James Hunter @ Bimboâ€™s, 9pm, $18, 21+
The rest of his tour dates can be after the jump.
 I got this CD in the mail and immediately saw Hear Music and groaned. Hear Music is the Starbucks music label (though, right around that time Starbucks handed over creative control to its partner) and there was no way I was going to promote a Starbucks CD. Well, I put it in and, to my chagrin, I quickly realized that it was too good not to talk about.
Tour dates and a live video below.
June 6 Boston, MA Paradise Rock Club
June 7 Roscoe, NY WJFF Series: Live from Big Twig
June 10 Philadelphia, PA World CafÃ© Live
June 11 New York, NY Blender Theatre
June 14 St Louis, MO Fox Theatre (with Willie Nelson)
June 17 Kettering, OH Fraze Pavilion (with Willie Nelson)
June 19 Ann Arbor, MI Ann Arbor Summer Festival (with Willie Nelson)
June 20 Highland Park, IL Ravinia (with Willie Nelson)
June 24 Toronto, ON Toronto Jazz Festival
June 26 Minneapolis, MN Minnesota Zoo
June 27 Council Bluffs, IA Stir Summer Concert Series (with Willie Nelson)
June 28 Milwaukee, WI Summerfest
July 1 Los Angeles, CA Troubadour
July 4 Quincy, CA High Sierra Music Festival
July 5 Quincy, CA High Sierra Music Festival
July 6 Portland, OR Waterfront Blues Festival
July 8 Seattle, WA Triple Door
July 11 San Francisco, CA Bimbo’s 365 Club
July 12 Santa Barbara, CA Lobero Theater
July 16 Austin, TX Antone’s