Published Mar 03, 2020The once-underground R&B sensation, turned Van Morrison collaborator and sometime bandleader, the man who every few years just casually drops documents of instant classic swinging tunes — that bloke who keeps his songs as tight as his looks and his chops as sharp as his suits, Mr. James Hunter is back. As on the previous outings Whatever It Takes, Hold On and Minute By Minute, he has his five troops in tow to connect you to that golden era of jukebox pop, when the clock ticked slow and rock had barely begun to roll.
This avoids the pitfall of much neo-soul, where it gets thin and contrived, reaching for the simple sound of classic pop, but without mastering the art of transcending the structure and nailing the sound. Like its predecessors, Nick of Time was born from the cradle of good music at Daptone Records, and with the label's chancellor of analogue warmth, Bosco Mann, on the boards. Hunter and his crew get to revel in their freedom, splashing through everything from the bouncy, irreverent Randy Newman-esque vocal jazz of "Paradise for One" to the horn-and-rhythm pop propulsion for "I Can Change Your Mind." Hunter used to open for departed goddess of Daptone, Sharon Jones, and fans of her catalogue will be instantly charmed by the warmth and detail coming from this band.
Despite the fact that you could fool most listeners into thinking this came out in JFK's America, don't write this off as another simple nostalgic throwback — as evidenced by contemporary lyrical fire the snippet kick and snare sizzler "Can't Help Myself." This music uses old styles and old techniques, but the playing and production are undeniably of the modern day.
A killer band leader, but never ignorant of his own powerful vocals, on many of these songs, Hunter's voice proudly rises and his band expertly fall into the pocket. Sometimes Hunter is as able to evoke the spirit of the late Sam Cooke than any crooner to try on the hat of the Soul Man. Despite his sense of humour and willingness to take his sound to whimsical places, Hunter remains sonically faithful to the glowing '60s jukebox. In his swinging, soulful, funky and even rocking moments, he takes the malt shop innocence of the booming early '60s and dumps a double shot of urbane genre-bending artistry into the past's milkshake.
This is a band who love to play, on a label that never settles for mediocre, in times that need it. It's the wisdom drawn from living, and soul that springs from feeling, through songs you'll be re-spinning. This record is an artefact of the finest quality released to keep our ears cool and hearts throbbing, whether our future brings endless summer or nuclear winter. (Daptone)