After the heartbreaking loss of legends Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley in 2016 and ’17, the last old-school R&B singer remaining on the roster at NYC soul hub Daptone Records is James Hunter, from Essex, England. Despite Hunter’s U.K. origins, Whatever It Takes boldly underlines the fact that he’s as steeped in deep soul as any Yank.
When 55-year-old Hunter lets his lived-in but surprisingly pliable pipes loose on his seventh solo album, the ghosts of Sam Cooke and Ray Charles surely smile down approvingly. When his band coils itself tightly around sensual mid-tempo hip-wigglers like “I Don’t Wanna Be Without You” and “Whatever It Takes,” they recall the stylishly syncopated, urbane feel of early ’60s R&B slingers like Doris Troy and Barbara Lewis.
Hunter’s more than a devilishly deft vocalist—his guitar licks pack enough sting to keep the tracks spry and smoldering. His six-string prowess is most apparent on the aptly-titled instrumental “Blisters,” where he lets fly a torrent of fiercely visceral, bluesy lines over smoldering, Booker T.-style organ riffs. But lean in for the ending of “Don’t Let Pride Take You For a Ride,” where Hunter unspools a savage stream of riffs as feral as his closing vocal wails. Alternately intimate and unfettered, Whatever It Takes cements the timelessness of Hunter’s ’60s-soul inspirations when channeled by the right set of hands.