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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Soul music that actually has soul., 22 Jun. 2008
By 
doublegone (scotland) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Hard Way (Audio CD)
Back in the 80s James was the acceptable face of blues as far as the NME was concerned, operating as Howling Wilf and the Veejays. That outfit was much more Chicago Blues orientated. I still have some of the vinyl and its great. Over the years though he has tilted more towards classic soul. His last album , People Gonna Talk, really nailed it. Fabulous songwriting, vocals like Sam Cooke, guitar like Howling Wolf's sideman Hubert Sumlin, lush horn riffage reminiscent of early James Brown, slabs of funky hammond. It was a terrific record and I'm surprised it didn't make him a household name. This follow up has if anything even stronger songwriting. Really tight pop soul numbers. The band sounds similar, with perhaps the addition of more strings along the way. I'd add the Drifters to the list of components this time out. The production is also once again excellent.

Some people are talking about James in the same breathe as Amy Winehouse and wondering why he is not as successful. I believe it is because although Amy references a lot of music from the same era as James, her records have a modern spin and modern lyrical concerns. James is a full on retro performer. It is difficult to tell if these songs come from 1968 or 2008. That can be nice. But I for one would love to hear producer Mark Ronson do a makeover on James Hunter - keep the classic references but give it a modern spin rather than stick entirely retro.

That said, this disc does not disappoint, and I hope James gets the success he deserves for this beautiful life-affirming music. Not all soul music these days actually has soul. James Hunter has it in spades though.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr.Hunter does it again - with style, 12 May 2008
By 
S. Foster "Sharnalee" (Oxfordshire,UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Hard Way (Audio CD)
Many of us have been eagerly waiting to see just how James Hunter would follow his highly acclaimed grammy-nominated album of 2006,"People Gonna Talk".Thankfully,he has once again evoked the warm,sweet sounds of the late '50s and early '60s,and somehow made them his own.This time round there are more complex arrangements,involving strings,additional instruments,backing vocals and all manner of clever touches,but it's all done in such a way it simply melts together into a rich,delicious whole,and feels surprisingly uncontrived.

Throughout the album,from the first infectious title track,with its backing vocal from music legend,Allen Toussaint,we hear exquisite arrangements combined with emotive vocals.By contrast,the stripped-to-the-bare-bones reworking of "Strange But True" is daringly uncomplicated - just the man and his guitar - but it's perfect.No more is necessary.

Stand-out tracks for me include the achingly beautiful "Hand It Over", with its gentle longing,the rockin' "Jacqueline",that surely even Jackie Wilson would have been proud of,"Carina",with its summery ska beat and "Class Act",which bounces along with James' trademark wit and humour.Having said that,there isn't a duff song on here - a testament to the songwriting skills of Mr.Hunter,who penned the lot.The upbeat Latin rhythms that the band are so good at are once again prevalent in "Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and the interesting reworking of "Believe Me Baby";the latter featuring Allen Toussaint's piano prowess alongside James' impressive fretwork."'Til the End" provides some moody blues and there's a new smooth sophistication to "Tell Her",with its horn and mellow,understated vocal,but it's still reassuring to hear James let rip on "She's Got a Way" and "Don't Do Me No Favours" as only he knows how.

Do see these guys live if you ever get the chance.They deliver the same effortless musicianship you hear on CD,but with an unbelievable added sweat value,derived from their relentless drive and energy!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars James makes it look easy, 6 May 2008
By 
G. E. Harrison (Cheltenham, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Hard Way (Audio CD)
James has had limited success in Britain on the blues/R&B circuit (where he was previously known as Howlin' Wilf) but in the last few years in the US he has enjoyed Grammy nominations for his 'People gonna talk' CD, nationwide tours and national TV appearances. I saw him on last year's San Francisco Blues Festival where, despite sharing the bill with established stars like Alan Toussaint, John Hammond, Charlie Musslewhite, Robert Randolph etc, he was (by far) the best thing on all weekend.

This follow-up to 'People gonna talk' was recorded in London's White Stripes-endorsed analogue Toe Rag studios and again sounds fabulous, straight from the late 50s. The sound, arrangements and indeed some of the songs are very similar to 'People gonna talk' but why change a winning formula? In truth some of the tracks have additional instruments (e.g. the strings and back up vocals on 'Hand it over' and the pedal steel on 'Carina') but the feel remains the same. It's easy to see James influences - Sam Cooke ('Carina') Ray Charles ('Don't do me no favours'), Sam Cooke ('The Hard Way', James Brown ('Believe me baby') - but what better influences to have? Alan Toussaint joins James for several tracks - possibly as a result of the meeting in San Francisco - but James' regular keyboard player Kyle Koeljer is also excellent throughout this CD, as are all his regular band.

If you liked 'People gonna talk' you will like 'The Hard Way', which has exactly the same feel and overall (excellent) sound but has just enough progressions to keep it interesting. In many ways James is doing similar material to Amy Winehouse, Dufy, Mark Ronson but doing it much more authentically; it's a pity he can't share their popularity in his own country.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Happily, another cracking album..., 22 Aug. 2008
By 
Ben (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Hard Way (Audio CD)
James Hunter previous album, "People Gonna Talk", remains a real gem of a record - wonderfully sharp songs, brilliantly played and exquisitely produced by Liam Watson. After a number years of hard graft and solid touring, Hunter and his band had delivered an exceptional record.

Fortunately, with all the success it brought, everyone went back to Watson's Toe Rag Studios and decided to do it all over again. It was a great formula, so why mess with it? So, much like its predecessor, "Hard Times" is a witty, intelligent record that repeatedly harks back to a different era but easily avoids being considered derivative or a pastiche.

The musical arrangements are skilled and effortless, Hunter's songs are smart and lyrics crafty - his vocals and understated guitar playing still impress. I find this album great fun to play, and the collection of songs hang together as a collection extremely well.

Now, if only he'd just tour the UK a little more!
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5.0 out of 5 stars What a Voice!, 15 Aug. 2012
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This review is from: The Hard Way (Audio CD)
I heard him for the 1st time on the radio recently, used Shazam (as was passively listening) to find out the owner of this marvellous soulful voice and Wow a 49 year bloke from Essex! I ordered the CD immediately. His vocals are so rich, a mix of Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and on some upbeat songs a touch of Chuck Berry, and the majority of his songs are written by him. The arrangements are excellent, backed by a very tight band. If Van the Man says he is great, that is good enough for me. If you like real music you won't be disappointed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best album I've bought for some time., 20 May 2010
By 
Melvyn Higson (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Hard Way (MP3 Download)
Van Morrisson discibed James Hunter as England's best kept secret. James Hunter says it was an overnight success that took 20 years. I say James Hunter is a brilliant singer/musician and cannot understand why he is not better known. This is a great album which must be heard to be believed. The Hard Way
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great Album - but a warning - inaccurate description of product!, 27 Sept. 2009
By 
Warning to prospective buyers - this is a two disc CD, NOT a 5 disc boxed set as in the Amazon description (as I found out when I received my copy).
It is the new single album + a short concert excerpt DVD .
However as all Jame's albums are - its great. Discover his earlier ones if you haven't already!
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of Britain's greatest musical talents, 19 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: The Hard Way (Audio CD)
One of Britain's greatest musical talents, born perhaps in the wrong era, James Hunter is simply wonderful. Anyone who likes the blues, here, like Elvis, you have a white man with a black singer's voice.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The future of R&B, 12 Jan. 2015
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Awesome album from a master, the band conjure up Detroit in it's musical heyday. Catch them live if you travell 200 miles it's worth it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars jh3, 8 May 2013
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This review is from: The Hard Way (Audio CD)
Good album if you like James Hunter I prefer the people gonna talk album myself but once youve seen him and heard him you want the lot,
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