James Hunter,
People Gonna Talk
(Rounder, 2006)

The British Isles have been interested in R&B and soul music for a long time, but James Hunter is the first English artist for many years to have generated a buzz in that region, with this first U.S. release. No less than Van Morrison has called Hunter "the best voice and best-kept secret in British R&B and soul."

People Gonna Talk sounds like a 1950s or '60s project updated with modern techniques, and in fact Hunter made a point to utilize classic analog recording equipment.

Hunter is shown with a guitar on the cover, but he rarely solos for a more than few bars on any given song. Damian Hand on tenor and Lee Badau on baritone saxophone are the lead players, either together as a horn section or separately with solos. A few tracks have guests on organ and piano, and two tracks have imaginative uses of violins.

Despite the care taken in the production, People has a relaxed feel. Hunter's smooth vocals may remind some listeners of the late Sam Cooke. The saxes never grunt or squeal. The rhythm section of Jason Wilson on bass and Jonathan Lee on drums and percussion moves things along at a steady but never rushed pace, with a lot of reggae, ska and even Latin rhythms.

Hunter wrote and arranged all 14 tracks on the CD, which is its biggest fault. The melodies tend to blend together after a while. And the lyrics are uniformly about relationships (of course, this was mostly true of the soul songs that Hunter uses as inspiration).

However, Hunter has delivered a finely crafted CD that expands the soul and R&B songbook while paying tribute to its tradition. And that's something that people are gonna talk about.

by Dave Howell
23 December 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.