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Pearl Street Swings to The James Hunter Six

The recently married couple had flown in from Kentucky for a romantic weekend in DC. “I picked DC because The James Hunter Six was playing here. And, really, their music is all about being in love,” the 32-year-old husband told me. He is right. On “Whatever it Takes,” the band’s latest effort, several Hunter wrote several of the songs for his true love and new American wife Jesse.

Hunter’s music is also about a sense of nostalgia, a simpler past and the joy of good times. Saturday’s sold out show at the intimate Pearl Street Warehouse highlighted all these facets. Two couples were demonstrating their swing dancing skills before Hunter had finished singing, “She’s got a way to send me/And a way to bring me back/One little shake is all it takes/To stop me in my tracks,” his first song of the night. But, the packed crowd was only just getting started.

A British import, James Hunter has been delighting audiences with his blue-eyed soul since the mid ‘80s. His career has had a steady upward trajectory. Playing back up guitar for Van Morrison and opening for Etta James and Willie Nelson are just a few of the highlights. During Saturday’s performance, this talented blues guitarist delivered a bit of shock and awe to an appreciative crowd.

Believe Me Baby, which showcased Hunter’s solos playing abilities, had the crowd cheering. Always a showman, he stood his guitar vertically and balanced it atop his foot continuing his lightning fast licks, never faltering. Hunter was joined by drummer Jonathan Lee, baritone saxophonist Lee Badau. tenor saxophonist Damian Hand, keyboardist Andrew Kingslow bassist Jason Wilson. All of them terrific musicians. Years of playing together gave this ensemble a tight, fun and rousing delivery. From energetic danceable favorites such as Chicken Switch and (Baby) Hold On to the wistful I Don’t Wanna Be Without You and Heartbreak, love was in the air.

And, sometimes the sense of having found something that feels so damn good is what makes a live show. During a particularly touching rendition of Stranded, when Hunter convincingly croons, “I thought that I’d be stayin’ high and dry/ ‘Til you proved me wrong/ You found me just in time/ To save my state of mind,” the crowd knew just what he meant.

A concert junky, music aficionado, and live music reviewer for Hill Rag and DC Music Review, Leanne Tankel studied writing at both UC Berkeley (BA) and Boston University (MA). In addition to music reviews, she writes prose. Her manuscript, “Broken Hallelujah: notes from a marriage,” was a 2011 short-list finalist for the Santa Fe Literary Awards program. Leanne lives with her three sons and two pugs in Northern Virginia.

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