Modern R&B legend James Hunter recently embarked on a huge tour across both the United States and Europe, with his band The James Hunter Six, and last night the northeast leg brought them to Fairfield, CT’s Stage One for a sold-out performance.
English-born performer James Hunter has been wooing crowds with his elegant singing voice and his impressive guitar skills since the mid-eighties. After a go around as one of Van Morrison’s backup singers in the early nineties, Hunter took off on his own vibrant career, fronting what would eventually become known as The James Hunter Six. Given any insight into the band’s long-matured prowess—which delivers some of the finest, old-school and grownup ska you could hope to hear—it should come as no surprise that their current tour, which is supporting a new album, Whatever it Takes, has seen multiple sell outs, including last night’s show at Stage One.
For last night’s show, The James Hunter Six displayed itself in full, luxurious color, especially the charismatic lead man. Featuring Hunter on guitar, a stand-up bassist and a drummer, a keyboardist, and two sax players, the band has a presence that is big and bold, and at times almost incendiary with vigor, while still being as clean and as smooth as can be. Those last three members, keys and horns, alighted with their solos the first several songs of the night, like “Satchel Foot,” and the new album’s “Don’t Let Pride Take You For a Ride.” Midway through “No Smoke Without Fire,” it was evident that the keyboardist in particular was a ringer attraction for the show, with multiple technically-superior solos played on a beautiful church-organ sound. The horn players meanwhile came in and out of Hunter’s solos with a more romantic approach.
Contrary to his bandmates’ styles, Hunter’s own playing brought a raw edge, a throwback to something closer to early Rolling Stones stuff rather than the clean, rocksteady feel that much of the Six’s songs take. When the frontman would solo, any kooky yet brilliant combination of notes could come spilling out, leaving the room guessing each time. His voice, on the other hand, echoing the throaty croon of Ray Charles, is pure suave.
Because of him and his band’s musicality, Hunter’s more laid back songs were just as grabbing. “Let The Monkey Ride” was soul music for a Sunday walk in the park, while “This Is Where We Came In” had just enough swing in its lounge jazz to keep things breezy.
In no time at all, Hunter’s unabashedly sweet-talking personality broke out and stole the night in its own way. “We’re gonna play some songs, and then take a break,” he says to the crowd, “and give you bit of time to either get a drinky-poo or buy a record—whoever you think needs the money more!”
Where slick meets skill, that seems to be the essence of The James Hunter Six. Despite the night’s moderate snow storm, Stage One filled up to its capacity for the English soul band’s warming, luxurious evening of entertainment. Tonight, the band plays at Daryl’s House in Pawling, NY, and then at both Boston and NYC’s City Wineries this week. After a few more dates in the northeast, Hunter and his gang head back across the pond for a European run.