Hunter & Shaw Review
By S. Chupaska of The Day
James Hunter offers Garde audience R&B and much more
Jan 20, 2009 3:23 PM -
Published on 1/19/2009 TheDay.com
New London - James Hunter started with a joke.
”We're going to play some good music,” he told the crowd at the Garde Arts Center Saturday. “And we'll play some of our songs as well.”
Hunter and his five-piece band can afford the self-deprecation - they are that good.
But Hunter has so fully absorbed his influences - Sam Cooke, Stax/Volt and especially Lowman Pauling of the legendary “5” Royales - that his originals would have sounded at home in a smoke-filled nightclub on the chitlin circuit 50 years ago.
The 46-year-old singer guitarist from Colchester, England, who got his big break in the mid-1990s working as a background singer for Van Morrison, played selections from his 2008 release “The Hard Way,” released on Hear Music, aka the Starbucks record label.
On “The Hard Way,” Hunter duets with the New Orleans singer and national treasure Allan Toussaint and the album's “Don't Do Me No Favours,” which Hunter introduced as “a miserable, rancorous song about having no money,” is a simmering number with plenty of NOLA seasoning.
Hunter also played two “5” Royales covers, the best of which was a scorching take on “Think,” which was a hit for James Brown.
But while Hunter is clearly in love with American R&B, his range is catholic enough to embrace reggae, such on the shuffling “Corina,” and other songs had dashes of rumba.
Hunter was loose on stage, occasionally standing on amplifiers, shuffling around like a reborn Eddie Cochran and drumming on the fretboard of his yellow Gibson Les Paul guitar.
Opener Ryan Shaw got a standing ovation from the small, but enthusiastic Garde audience, for his half-hour mix of ballads and hard charging, home-cooked soul.
Shaw's set, however, soon ground to a halt during an unwelcome and interminable bass guitar solo, but leapt back into action as he closed with his hit, the Wilson Pickett-flavored “Do The 45.”