James Hunter
The Hard Way

3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson Take one part Jackie Wilson (for soul) one part Sam Cooke (for style), one part Brian Setzer (band leadership qualities), and one part George Thorogood (for showmanship), and what do you have? James Hunter. His latest release, “The Hard Way,” blasts sassy syncopated sax-based retro soul for the new millennium that’s easy to appreciate.

Born in Colchester, England, Hunter was drawn to the sounds of R&B at an early age. Not surprisingly, one of his favorite records growing up was Jackie Wilson’s tongue-rattling “Reet Petite.” “The Hard Way” is his third effort, following his U.K. only 1996 debut, “Believe What I Say,” and his acclaimed 2001 follow-up, “People Gonna Talk.” He may look like Brit comedian Eddie Izzard, and at its worst his voice takes on John Hiatt’s goofy air-trapped tone, but when the sweaty groove locks in and Hunter curbs his urge to strangle his guitar, you’ll say to yourself, “Jeez, this sounds familiar. Where have I heard this before?” Hunter is of this time, but his sound clearly isn’t. Many of Hunter’s childhood influences blast out of the mix, including Ray Charles, Georgie Fame, and Allen Toussaint. Toussaint appears on the album, and his brand of syrupy New Orleans gumbo permeates a trio of tunes, “The Hard Way,” “Til the End,” and “Believe Me Baby.”