I brought two Frenchwomen who had never heard of James Hunter to City Winery, and unsurprisingly, by the end of the show, the charismatic performer had turned them into fans. Hunter, backed by bari and tenor saxes, keyboard, standup bass and drums, delivered soul as it should be: hot, heavy and squealing…a little like the French gals, by the final encore.
Like most clubs, seating can be tight at the Winery, but it’s a friendly spot, and after the first song, I turned to a gentleman next to us and asked, “Have seen James Hunter before?” He and his wife burst out laughing, as the gentleman, Aaron Spencer, explained that he had been Hunter’s longtime sound man, and had worked over 700 Hunter shows. It speaks well and loudly for an artist if that artist’s own roadie spends a night out with his honey to hear a version of music he’s already heard (including sound checks) a thousand times before.
Hunter’s long set included some 20 songs, including a standout version of the “5” Royales’ “Baby Don’t Do It,” “Carina” with its infectious reggae beat, and a blast from Hunter’s past, “Look Out” with the funkiest of horns and a killer line: “They rob you blind, then take your cane.” Hunter’s performances aren’t just music; they’re all about the love of music, an infectious joy that this charismatic performer brings to every show of his I’ve seen. The energy comes from the James Brown School of Showbiz, but the heart is straight out of Al Green by way of Ray Charles: warm, loving and a little mischievous.
– Suzanne Cadgène