It’s festival season, so James Hunter is in demand. Which kind of explains why he’s playing a split gig at the Dakota Jazz Club. Sorta. He performed there Thursday and, after playing at the Thunder Bay Blues Festival in Canada on Saturday, he’s back at the Dakota Sunday night.
The British blue-eyed soul man was in good form on Thursday. He leaned heavily on material from last year’s “Minute by Minute,” which was a good thing because it’s probably his most consistent album. (It’s also his first made-in-America disc, produced by Gabriel Roth of the Dap-Kings.)
Once again, Hunter tips his hat to Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and his beloved the “5” Royales, a 1950s group whose songs were later interpreted into hits by Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and the Mamas and the Papas, among others.
On Thursday, he gave ample solo opportunities to his sax men Damian Hand (tenor) and Lee Badau (baritone) and B3 organist Matt Slocum, the only American in the band. And Hunter took a few solos on guitar. But, in the spirit of the 1960s soul era that he mines so effectively, no Hunter number drags on past three or four minutes.
In just under 90 minutes, the James Hunter Six delivered nearly 20 numbers. The always charming Hunter – who looks like an impish John Mellencamp -- wasn’t as chatty as in some previous Twin Cities shows but that’s OK because sometimes it’s difficult to understand his Cockney accent, especially when he’s talking fast.
Hunter, 51, is not particularly showy. But, despite his restraint, he was unquestionably soulful and sexy – though the sound of the upright bass could have been louder, for my taste.
Hunter brought the passion on the dynamic “Baby, Don’t Do It” by the "5: Royales. He unleashed James Brown-like screams on “Look Out,” scatted on “Down Home Girl” and channeled his inner Smokey Robinson on “Let the Monkey Ride.”
Memphis-style horns colored “Chicken Switch,” skiffle seasoned “People Gonna Talk” and a “Tequila”-like rhythm splashed over “The Gypsy.”
The James Hunter Six may not be as exciting as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings or as showy as newcomers St. Paul & the Broken Bones. But Hunter is the real deal – he delivers vintage-sounding soul with authenticity and love.
The James Hunter Six perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Dakota Jazz Club. Crankshaft, the blues- and rockabilly-loving artist from Anoka, opens solo.