Eagerly awaited 2008 album from the British retro-Soul singing sensation, the follow-up to his Grammy-nominated People Gonna Talk album from 2006. The Hard Way is Hunter's giant step toward staking his place in the Pop-Soul pantheon alongside Same Cook, Jackie Wilson, Charlie Rich and Van Morrison. Three of the album's cuts feature special guest Allen Toussaint on piano. 12 tracks.
When the notoriously private Van Morrison praises a particular musician, that individual merits a closer look. Meet British R&B sensation James Hunter, who counts the Belfast troubadour among his biggest boosters (Morrison also appears on his 1996 debut, ...Believe What I Say
). Recorded at London's Toe Rag Studios, an analogue favorite of Billy Childish and the White Stripes, The Hard Way
showcases a rough and ready voice that recalls Sam Cooke and Georgie Fame after a few smokes and a tasteful, minimalist six-string approach. If Hunter eschews modernity, The Hard Way
plays more like a reinvention of 1950s forms than a mere throwback. In that sense, the Colchester native performs a similar function to former touring partner Chris Isaak. His fourth platter adds New Orleans flavor thanks to famed producer/pianist Allen Toussaint, who guests on three tracks. With no covers and no filler, The Hard Way
looks set to garner Hunter a second Grammy nod--if not a first win. As Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have proven, keeping soul alive in the 2000s isn't just about getting the sound
right, but about nailing that non-ironic feel
, and James Hunter performs his neo-classic tunes like he means every note. --Kathleen C. Fennessy