July 4, 2013

James Hunter echoes past, takes now 'Minute By Minute'

The British R&B singer/guitarist and his band play Asylum on Saturday.


James Hunter is looking forward to the backlash.

click image to enlarge


WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Asylum, 121 Center St., Portland

HOW MUCH: $15 in advance; $18 at the door

INFO: 772-8274; portlandasylum.com

"That's when you know you've really made it," says Hunter, punctuating the quip with the rascally laugh that fills a conversation with the British R&B singer/guitarist when reached by phone recently while on tour in California.

Since re-igniting his music career in his 40s with the 2006 album "People Gonna Talk," Hunter, 50, can seemingly do no wrong. His work became a bridge between modern British soul-pop associated with Amy Winehouse and Adele, and the American R&B and soul revival spearheaded by Daptone Records and artists such as Sharon Jones, Lee Fields and Charles Bradley.

But amid the rush to love his classic sound, Hunter wonders if he's actually always being heard.

"People have said nice things about me for the wrong reasons," he says. "One review praised my swing, early rock and jump blues. I'd argue that person was being nice, but didn't really get what I do."

The James Hunter Six will play Saturday at Asylum in Portland, a recently booked date as Hunter scrambled to remake a tour to promote his new album, "Minute by Minute." He was originally scheduled to open for Sharon Jones at several East Coast concerts, but those dates were canceled in early June when Jones revealed she was seeking treatment for cancer of the bile duct.

Hunter lost his wife to cancer in 2011, but she played a big part in the making of "Minute By Minute."

"It might make for a good story to say that making the album was therapeutic, but a lot of the work came when she was doing well," Hunter said. "She was in the studio a lot with me. She wasn't a musician, but she'd say things -- 'That's not quite there yet.' It was fantastic that she was there for that."

Hunter made "Minute by Minute" in the U.S. -- a first for him -- and worked with producer Gabe Roth, who co-founded the Daptone label.

"He made us sound punchier and in your face. It's subtle," Hunter says.

Hunter grew up a fan of soul music and performed in nightclubs around his native England. He caught the attention of Van Morrison, who brought Hunter into his band in the mid-'90s. (Morrison also appears on Hunter's 1996 record, "Believe What I Say.") He finally scored an American release -- and a Grammy nomination -- when Rounder Records put out "People Gonna Talk."

Hunter typically takes a less-is-more approach to his expressive singing and guitar playing, creating a crackling immediacy to his music even as it echoes the past.

"I don't try and sound like old records. If anything, I try and capture the spirit of that music," he says, adding with a laugh, "It's like how an actor will nick something he's seen somewhere else for his own performance."

Scott McLennan is a freelance writer. He can be reached at:


Twitter: @ScottMLennan1


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