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James Hunter and the Sound of '60s Soul

English soul singer James Hunter experienced a belated U.S. breakthrough two years ago with People Gonna Talk, a slice of '60s-era soul so eerily authentic-sounding, it didn't seem fair to peg him as a "revivalist." The writing and arranging on that album were airtight, pointing up the hard-won experience that belied the Van Morrison-endorsed singer-guitarist's speedy ascent. In fact, Hunter's songs and sound have remained remarkably unchanged since his 1996 U.K. debut, ...Believe What I Say; several tracks from that album and its 2001 follow-up were even re-recorded for People Gonna Talk.

"Carina" isn't a re-recording, but it might as well be. Bearing the name of an old girlfriend and recorded for Hunter's new album The Hard Way, it's a dead ringer for People Gonna Talk's title track. Both are mid-tempo torch songs wherein vintage ska rhythms uphold Motown melodies, pizzicato strings, and Hunter's voice, reminiscent of Sam Cooke with a few more degrees of wear-and-tear. That alone would have been enough, but Hunter throws in a crucial curveball with a series of whimsical pedal-steel fills, evoking a ghostly pang of nostalgia akin to Santo & Johnny's "Sleep Walk."

Aside from that American aberration, the song (and album) further cements Hunter's place among great U.K. interpreters of American R&B. This is mod soul that sounds as enticing on the first play as it does on the 100th, and thankfully the late-blooming crooner isn't about to overhaul his brand of R&B at this point. As he sings here, "Good things will come to those who wait."

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Evan Haga