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Winehouse who?

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June 3, 2008

While everyone has waxed ecstatic about soul revivalists like Amy Winehouse and now Duffy, the artist everyone needs to really be paying attention to is fellow Brit James Hunter (above). He's a genuine purveyor of vintage soul without the affectation so many of his peers are prone to.

On "The Hard Way" (Hear Music), his new album out June 10, Hunter sounds even more genuine and effortless than on 2006's overlooked "People Gonna Talk." There's not a false moment here, and the short, pointed songs - all beautifully arranged - evoke classic '50s and '60s R&B without coming across as pale imitations.

The disc was produced by Liam Watson and recorded at Toe Rag Studios, and the feel is warm and immediate. Hunter could be performing in your living room (and he performs at the Paradise Rock Club this Friday). Some songs are underlined with subtle strings and peppered with swinging horn charts.

Like all great soulmen, Hunter sings about love, and there are some classic moments here, such as the ska-kissed "Carina" (a sublime summer boardwalk tune) and the title track, which features Allen Toussaint on piano and vocals. Hunter the vocalist comes into his own here as any hints of imitation on previous works give way to his own lived-in feel. On one of this year's smoothest and best discs, Hunter makes "The Hard Way" go down so easy. [Ken Capobianco]

James Hunter plays at the Paradise Friday, with Tift Merritt opening at 9. Tickets are $15 at livenation.com.

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