Interview: James Hunter Six Does ‘Whatever It Takes’, Plays Rent Party in Maplewood on February 23

“I’m one fat lip from the championship,
So don’t give up the fight,
And whatever it takes,
I’m going to make everything alright…” – from “Whatever It Takes” by James Hunter

James Hunter is the underdog that you couldn’t be happier to root for. After all, this singer, guitarist and songwriter has toughed it out as a railway worker, busked many a street in London and played countless clubs and theatres throughout the world.

His new album, “Whatever It Takes” was released earlier this month on Daptone Records. In the title song, Hunter’s lyrics combine a hopeful outlook with the candid truth that sometimes you have to simply gut it out to get there. He’s just “one fat lip from a championship,” Hunter sings.

And his new album certainly merits champion status.

The James Hunter Six, a U.K.-based bluesy, brassy rhythm and soul sextet are heading our direction, sporting their brand new album. JH6 plays Rent Party on Friday, February 23 at The Woodland in Maplewood. “Rent Party is so excited about this show and delighted that we can bring such a great performer to Maplewood,” said Chris Dickson, Rent Party’s founder. Dickson also encourages folks to buy their tickets in advance because a sell-out is expected.

At first listen, it’s easy to hear that Hunter is in love. The album was indeed inspired by his new wife, Jessie Perez Huntsman, who originally hails from both Jackson and Neptune, New Jersey. “The title track was written to cheer her up,” Hunter told us. “She was having a really difficult time trying to get her legal residency [in the U.K]. The immigration department kept moving the goal-posts, and she was getting buffeted around like a pinball. I was on tour in France and wasn’t able to be there.”

Hunter told us the song lyrics were also inspired by “The Set-Up,” a film starring actor Robert Ryan and released in 1949. “The phrase he used was ‘I’m just one punch away’,” recalled Hunter. “I was able to finish the song in one day.”

In the early 90s, the legendary Van Morrison recruited Hunter to sing backup on two albums, “A Night in San Francisco” and “Days Like This.” Hunter would also tour with Van Morrison. “He has a quiet strength and a very secure ego,” Hunter said of his experience working and performing with the famed “Brown Eyed Girl” songwriter. “He’s very generous with his space on stage.”

The crooner subsequently opened shows for Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Willie Nelson and Tom Petty. In addition, Hunter has been recognized with nominations for a Grammy Award (“Best Traditional Blues Album” for “People Gonna Talk”) and an American Music Award (“Best New/Emerging Artist”).

Hunter has been touring as “The James Hunter Six,” a group of musicians who have been working together for roughly two decades. The band features Jonathan Lee on drums; Lee Badau, baritone saxophone; Damian Hand, tenor saxophone; Andrew Kingslow, keyboards/percussion; and Jason Wilson, bass.

The album was recorded in Riverside, California with an intriguing production approach. The 10 song-record was produced by two-time Grammy Award-winning Gabriel Roth and was “recorded on eight-track audiotape and transferred onto a disc the old-fashioned way to capture that vibe,” said Hunter. “And the [recording] room itself was such a comfortable place. It’s enormous so we don’t have to worry that much about separation. Right next to the singer’s booth there’s a fire escape so I can have a smoke while the sax solo is playing.”

The band’s New Jersey show at Rent Party in Maplewood provides an opportunity to witness Hunter’s extraordinarily soulful voice, his casually confident guitar playing, and a tight band that will surely bring an electric performance to Hunter’s textured and impressive new album.

The James Hunter Six play Rent Party on Friday, February 23 at The Woodland, 60 Woodland Road in Maplewood. Elk City opens at 8:00 p.m. Buy your tickets here. Their album “Whatever It Takes” is now out on Daptone Records.