Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)

March 2018

Daptone DAP-051
Format: monaural CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

James Hunter made some albums and EPs as Howlin’ Wilf in the late 1980s before making . .  . believe what I say, his first recording under his own name, in 1996. Whatever It Takes is his seventh album with the James Hunter Six, and his second for Daptone Records, a label founded to handle just such a devoted carrier of the soul-music torch. The English singer has a natural feel for the music, and sings it in the sophisticated manner of a Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye. He’s also a formidable guitarist and bandleader whose sextet plays his songs with understated skill.

“I Don’t Wanna Be Without You” moves along with a rhumba beat, castanets lightly playing in the background. The two sax players, Damian Hand (tenor) and Lee Badau (baritone), play a simple but effective line, Andrew Kingslow backing them on ’60s-style electric organ. Hunter sings this upbeat love song with elegant soulfulness. He recently married, and a number of the songs on Whatever It Takes are celebrations of romantic love.

Whatever It Takes

The title track is anchored by Jonathan Lee’s solid, in-the-pocket drumming, Kingslow again adding the right touches, this time on piano and organ. Hunter’s rhythm guitar gives the song structure, and he sings with cool assurance. He’s not a pushy singer, but his voice has an emotional honesty that transcends vocal pyrotechnics.

“MM-Hmm” is a terrific medium-tempo ballad that demonstrates the precision of Hunter’s band and its command of urban soul of the early to mid-1960s. I noted the debt Hunter owes to Sam Cooke, but he’s also absorbed early Motown and the recordings of the great Chicago soul producer Carl Davis (Gene Chandler, Major Lance). His band has also learned well, playing with passion but always letting the song and the singer remain the focus. Hand’s brief, pointed tenor solo is a model of eloquent restraint.

“I Got Eyes” channels early James Brown, but the vibes (Kingslow again) add a hint of Archie Bell and the Drells. Hunter and his band have selected and combined their soul-music influences in a way that sounds fresh, and revitalizes the music they champion. “Blisters,” a strong Freddie King-style instrumental, lets Hunter strut his guitar stuff, and “I Should’ve Spoke Up” is his most obvious nod to Cooke. He and his band shift gears and styles effortlessly, and bring their own distinctive feel to each tune.

Whatever It Takes

Producer Bosco Mann (aka Gabriel Roth) ensures that this music’s variety never jars. Roth is the chief engineer at Penrose Recorders -- Daptone West, in Riverside, California. As at the label’s Brooklyn studio, everything at Penrose is eight-track analog, and the monaural sound on Whatever It Takes is luxuriously warm and spacious, with Hunter’s voice well centered and instrumental details cleanly etched. The album is also available on vinyl, which I’m eager to hear.

With the recent passing of Daptone’s Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, Hunter is among the few old-style soul singers left, even at this label. But with the tradition being carried on by younger singers such as Leon Bridges and Eli “Paperboy” Reed, the form could return, and Hunter could find himself one of its grand masters.

. . . Joseph Taylor