Music

James Hunter Six Makes the Old New Again on 'Whatever It Takes'

James Hunter can sing with an ache, a honk, a howl, or a growl—and just engage in a melodic conversation before the emotions inside overwhelm him and he lets loose.

Whatever It Takes
James Hunter Six

Daptone

2 Feb 2018

If you think the new James Hunter Six release, Whatever It Takes, resembles classic soul albums from the distant past with their flat dynamics and muffled sounds, then the producers have done their job correctly. The songs were recorded on eight-track audiotape and transferred onto a disc the old-fashioned way to capture that vibe. However, the new James Hunter Six record sounds much more like a previous James Hunter Six disc than the R&B music from the traditions it pays tribute to. That's a positive because the British band has created an inspired oeuvre where he and his band revive the older traditions and make them new again through their dazzling performances. The new one is just another notch in their belt.

As such, Whatever It Takes will please existing fans more than create fresh adherents. There is nothing new here. Hunter and company dig a deep groove. The heavy musical rhythms both tie Hunter up and set him free. His guitar work goes often goes against the grain of the song to announce its individual voice. On the instrumental, "Blisters", he fingers notes over a Green Onions style background to display the depths of his emotions.

Hunter can sing with an ache, a honk, a howl, or a growl—and just engage in a melodic conversation before the emotions inside overwhelm him, and he lets loose. His band engages in shapeshifting modes from gentle and delicate to staggeringly powerful. They serve the mood of the individual track — all ten were written by Hunter — like a ball for him to spin, slam, or lob as the situation unfolds. One of the pleasures of listening to the James Hunter Six is that although the group plays genre-style music, one never knows where a particular song will go. Hunter and his band know how to pivot, fade, and feint as well as take a track to its limit.

So, on "Don't Let Pride Take You For a Ride", Hunter and the band chill out by repeating the musical lines over and over again like a rubber band twisted on a popsicle stick. Not letting go keeps the tension without ever letting it fly out of control or causing one to lose one's cool, although the possibility is always there. Hunter's gospel intonations endow the song with a spiritual presence. Pride, after all, is a sin.

But sinning isn't always bad. When Hunter sings "I Don't Wanna Be Without You", his concerns are sexual as well as emotional. And faith itself can be a good thing, as he croons on the title cut, especially if it is having faith in each other. The tracks on the new record sometimes concern infidelity and the dangers of not speaking up when one should, but the greater theme of the album is that we need to depend on each other to get through life and make it meaningful. Hunter's not singing the sad blues. He's offering hope. That means more than just words. Hunter lectures the listener to take action, with a sly but sincere wink. He knows that doing whatever it takes is a physical thing.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.