Since the 1980s, exemplary British R&B singer, songwriter, and guitarist James Hunter has been plying his trade with his own bands, first with Howlin' Wilf and the Vee-Jays and then with the James Hunter Six. He's also accompanied some of his very famous friends like Van Morrison (you can hear Hunter on Days Like This and A Night in San Francisco). Nick of Time mark's the artist's fourth collaboration with Daptone producer Bosco Mann (Gabriel Roth), and his third full-length for the label. As ever, his music remains rooted in historic rhythm and blues, doo wop, and soul, but Hunter expands his range here to include cha cha, rhumba, and swing rhythms. He also hired a new cast of American players to be the second edition of the James Hunter Six.
Opener and first single "I Can Change Your Mind" is a delightful midtempo rhumba that tips its hat to early King/Federal jukebox releases with a twist: Hunter phrases like a soul crooner in front of a Hammond B-3 and a grooving tenor and baritone sax vamp. It's followed by "Who's Fooling Who," a lithe Latin soul ballad wherein Hunter's honeyed, whiskey-tinged voice recalls Sam Cooke's. "Til I Hear from You" employs a tricky Latin-ized 5/4 vamp that directly references the Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Take Five," but grafts Ben E. King-styled doo wop into the lead and chorus-line backing vocals. The title cut is an early rock and soul dancefloor slipper with gorgeous harmony vocals. Hunter's singing nods at the examples of Jackie Wilson and Gene Chandler. Check the use of Ray Charles in the scorching "You'll Never Get Me Up in One of Those," (where a hard-swinging jazzy horn chart meets the sound of early Detroit gospel and the bumping soul-blues of Magic Sam. "Can’t Help Myself" is a rhumba strut crossed with the inspiration of L.A.'s Central Avenue jazz scene and drugstore doo wop. And speaking of jazz, "Paradise of One" seems to wed the breezy swing of Nat King Cole's late-'40s pop work with Mose Allison's lyric and rhythmic sensibilities. The tom-tom-heavy "He's Your Could Have Been," touches on Latin-infused R&B from Cosimo Matassa's legendary 1950s studio in New Orleans. Nick of Time showcases Hunter at his most expressive and sophisticated as a singer, songwriter, and as an arranger. He juxtaposes styles and genres effortlessly; his imagination places things in direct relation that normally don't come within striking distance of one another. The band executes them with a streamlined, live, and crackling energy that undergirds the vulnerable honesty and truth in his lyrics and singing. Thanks to the caliber of players in the new James Hunter Six, he is challenged and supported in equal measure. While Hunter may be unapologetically retro in his inspirations, he is unrelentingly modern in his use of vintage music; for him it is ever present in the music he makes, and that's the exact opposite of being nostalgic.