The James Hunter Six, “Whatever It Takes”: When he resurfaced in the music business a little more than a decade ago, James Hunter showed himself to be a master of vintage soul and R&B — a superb singer and guitarist with the ability to make the old sound new.
On Whatever It Takes, the 55-year-old Englishman and former Van Morrison backup vocalist continues to work that old-school territory with consummate command. Once again, he and his longtime band keep it tight — the arrangements are full, with horns and keyboards, but the 10-song collection of originals clocks in at less than 30 minutes.
This time, Hunter emphasizes the sweeter, Sam Cooke side a little more, setting the tone by opening with the seductive sway of “I Don’t Wanna Be Without You” before moving on to the tender display of devotion in the title track. “I Got Eyes” and “Don’t Let Pride Take You for a Ride” exude more grit and urgency — more Otis Redding, if you will — and “Blisters” is a tough, vamping instrumental.
— Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Melody Gardot, “Live in Europe”: Philadelphia’s smoky-voiced and nimble-fingered Melody Gardot has been an elastic jazzy presence throughout her handful of studio albums since her 2006 debut, “Worrisome Heart.” And the singer and pianist’s studio ensembles have also been rubbery, hazy and dynamic. Yet anyone who has witnessed Gardot and her tough but tender-toned touring band — drummer Charles Staab, saxophonist Irwin Hall and bassist Sami Minaie — gets that live is where Gardot & Co. truly thrive, vibe and jive. This two-CD, three-LP set, recorded between 2012 and 2016, is an exceptional example of how Gardot breathes when out and about.
With the exception of covers such as a bendy, somnolent version of “Over the Rainbow,” this sensual set captures Gardot yanked like taffy. Languidly atmospheric and alluringly theatrical in a manner that would make Roxy Music seem taut and gray, the woozy blues of “Baby I’m a Fool,” the sedative samba of “Lisboa,” the rootsy Nina Simone-ish “Morning Sun,” and the stately sexiness of “Deep Within the Corners of my Mind” go far beyond their studio versions in showing off prime Gardot.
— A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer
MGMT, “Little Dark Age”: After two albums of willfully experimental psychedelic pop, MGMT return to writing the type of hooks they proved so skilled at on their debut, 2007’s “Oracular Spectacular.” Musically, “Little Dark Age” draws a lot on ’80s synth-based commercial pop, such as Hall & Oates, Madonna, and the Eurythmics, with lots of slightly cheesy backing vocals. But there’s more going on than those period references: MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser again worked with Dave Fridmann, the frequent Flaming Lips producer, so these songs are dense with sonic details that are fun to parse.
— Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer