CD Review of People Gonna Talk by James Hunter

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People Gonna Talk
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Go Records/Rounder
Released: 2006
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James Hunter’s People Gonna Talk is the sort of record that, upon listening to even as little as one song, inspires people to ask, in shocked, hushed tones, “Where did this come from?” It is not, however, a rhetorical question. I mean, it’s obvious that there’s been a ripple in the space-time continuum... or perhaps it’s an actual tear. What do I know from such things? I’m no physicist! But whatever the case, in the midst of the fluctuation, a heretofore-unknown album from 1960 (release date approximate) was transported into our era and transferred onto CD.

Or is that too complicated an explanation?

If so, then one thing nonetheless remains certain: you can look this disc up and down, listen to it inside and out, and you won’t be able to prove that it isn’t a reissue of some sort.

James Hunter performs old school blue-eyed soul... and I’m not talking about the slick, pop-oriented interpretation of the genre as done by Hall and Oates. No, this is authentic, who-cares-about-current-commercial-trends blue-eyed soul. If you’re willing to go out on a limb and believe in reincarnation, you could just about buy that Sam Cooke is back from the dead and living among us in the form of James Hunter. Or maybe Ben E. King has completely retired and opted to gift his voice to Hunter.

Some of you may think that’s too much hyperbole, in which case let’s tone it down a bit and say that, at the very least, it’s easily as strong as the material Nick Lowe has been putting out for the last decade or so. It’s certainly no surprise to find that Van Morrison is a major Hunter supporter, describing him as “one of the best voices, and best kept secrets, in British R&B and soul.”

All of the tracks here are Hunter-composed originals, but they sound like they could be standards, thanks to the man’s smooth voice, which effortlessly moves from croon to falsetto when required. The material was recorded in strict analogue surroundings at London’s Toe Rag Studios (the White Stripes’ Elephant was birthed there as well), giving it an authentic early ‘60s vibe. There’s a lot of sax, both in the forefront, as on the squawking good time of “No Smoke Without a Fire,” or in the background, as with the rollicking “Talking ‘Bout My Love.” Fans of early Dexy’s Midnight Runners (the pre-Too-Rye-Aye era) or the Specials (particularly on the title track) will find a great deal to enjoy here, as will those lamenting the recent passing of Gene Pitney. (Check out “It’s Easy to Say” for solace.) Also of particular note is the sublime guitar work on “Mollena.”

James Hunter isn’t gonna be for everyone, but count on lots of NPR stations picking up on this disc and playing the living hell out of it. People Gonna Talk isn’t Hunter’s debut (it’s actually his third disc as a solo artist, having spent time fronting a pun-fully named pub rock group called... wait for it... Howlin’ Wilf), but it’s his first American release; one hopes it’ll prove to be the start of something big for him on these shores.

~Will Harris