Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A British Singer Rooted in American Soul ; James Hunter Spent Decades Toiling in near Obscurity. Now His Classic R&B Is Finally Getting Heard

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A British Singer Rooted in American Soul ; James Hunter Spent Decades Toiling in near Obscurity. Now His Classic R&B Is Finally Getting Heard

Article excerpt

James Hunter seems to be a creature of habit. The last time the British singer-songwriter-guitarist was in the Boston area, he crossed the border between Cambridge and Arlington to eat at the Arlington Restaurant and Diner. For his second trip to the area, in mid-March, he ate breakfast at the same spot and returned a few hours later for a liquid lunch (ice tea) and an interview.

Clearly, the man knows what he likes and he sticks with it. Not just when it comes to victuals. Musically, Hunter has been doing roughly the same thing for the past two decades, refining his own authentic classic soul and R&B compositions in his homeland in between stints working for British Railways, among other things. All these years later he's finally garnering airplay on adult- contemporary radio with his new album, "People Gonna Talk."

"I've been on the edge of something happening for the last 20 years,'' he says. "If I say so myself, I was pretty rubbish 20 years ago. The material wasn't that great."

He wasn't totally anonymous during that time. When Hunter was working a day job moving office furniture at an architectural firm - "The only two things I'm good at are singing and lifting things,'' he says - one of the architects recognized him and within minutes everyone in the firm was clamoring for his autograph.

But he's starting to "crack it" in America now with his first disc, a hot club tour, and a reputation as a handsome, if rough- hewn, white guy bringing back black music from a distant era, the sweet soul and R&B sounds of singers such as Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson.

As a preteen, he learned their music from his grandparents' 78s. He was oblivious to most all pop music with, he says, "the exception of punk, which I kind of approved of. Musically, it didn't turn me on that much, but punk was a reaction musically to what was laughingly called progressive rock at the time. …

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