Who is Morgan James? I didn’t have a clue until the Apple Music algorithm suggested the album, Hunter, following a listening session that included Prince’s incredible ART OFFICIAL AGE. Yes, I was captivated by the cover art, but I was ultimately drawn into the musicality and vocal prowess of Morgan James.
With regards to the cover art, the album artwork presented in this review is from the reissued release as the original CD pressings featured James in a striking black and white pose. Despite this variation, both covers are beautiful and it’s a shame that Hunter has only ever been released on CD as its design is screaming to be seen on a larger canvas. I should also mention that while the digital non-Mastered for iTunes edition sounds remarkably good, I can only imagine just how good Hunter would sound on vinyl. While digital music can sound warm and full, it’s unfortunately not always the case as it can also sound cold and shrill. Thankfully, this is one recording that takes sonic reproduction to another level. You’ll feel compelled to turn the volume up and at no time does the soundstage distort or sound hollow. It’s recorded, mixed, and mastered perfectly and the musical performance is simply exceptional, as is James’ vocal prowess; a vocalist that blows my mind.
Call My Name gives you an insight as to what to expect from the entire album. The rhythm is beautifully recorded and James’ silky vocal will captivate your soul. Of course, Call My Name is a cover of the Prince original, and as much as I adore Prince’s version, I’m left speechless by this interpretation. This is one song, and album, where I would strongly suggest turning the lights down and the volume up as you experience your own personal mind-blowing performance as James and the band are transported directly to your lounge room. Absolutely amazing!
The music video doesn’t, in my opinion, suit the musicality and style of the song. It’s a missed opportunity and unless you enjoy music via music videos, you’ll likely watch it a single time and never watch it again as it’s largely forgettable. A shame considering just how enjoyable the song is.
Hunter continues the captivating Jazz meets Soul meets R&B sound; a style that I truly adore and reminds me fondly of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Hunter is sensational and while I was unsure of the album being named after this song, there is little wonder why as the song is off-the-charts and it’s a recording that you simply have to hear to believe.
Heart Shake continues the upbeat nature often associated with soul music. Heart Shake has a killer hook and if you’re not moving to the rhythm and singing along after the first listen, you’re listening to the album wrong.
Bring Yourself To Me maintains the tempo, but isn’t quite as strong as the previous tracks on the album. That said, Bring Yourself To Me is what I would class as classic R&B and if you’re partial to that style of music, you’re going to love this song. As for me, I’d likely refer to this song as a B-side. Not bad, but nothing to write home about.
I Want You has an exceptionally deep bass element that will reach directly into your soul. While some may consider it to be bass heavy, I prefer a little bass in my music and therefore I consider it to be absolutely perfect as there is no distortion to be heard and James’ beautiful vocal can be heard clearly as the soundstage hasn’t been completely crushed in the mastering process. That said, some of the musical elements do get a little lost in the mix, but it is nothing compared to most modern recordings that have this music lover scratching his head trying to figure out what, if any, musical instrument was used in the recording of a song. That aside, just listen to that fade out. They don’t make them like that anymore. I love it!
I Don’t Speak You maintains a relatively deep bass element, but I must admit that I find it a little distracting and it would be nice if it was dialled back a couple of decibels as I really want to hear James’ vocal unrestricted by the instrumentation. A solid song, nevertheless.
You Never Lied is absolutely beautiful.
Say The Words really focuses on James’ vocal and the term magnificent simply doesn’t begin to describe just how incredible this recording is. Seriously, take a listen, you’ll be blown away. James has, without doubt, one of the most beautiful female vocals I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear.
The Sweetest Sound really showcases James’ vocal dexterity. Absolutely magical! Although, the ending is too abrupt, it really needed to be faded out rather than ending suddenly. Drown, therefore, takes a little adjustment to get used to as it starts very closely to the end of The Sweetest Sound and the mind is initially unsure how to handle the change. Once the jolt is past and the mind settles into the music, Drown is quite enjoyable.
Fed Up On You picks up the pace with a jazzy original tune that reminds me of Aretha Franklin. Subsequently, I thoroughly enjoy it and the rhythm is sure to get you moving.
She’s Gone is an incredible composition with a sound stage that is so dynamic that upon each listen, you’ll be hearing elements that you had never heard before. A great song!
Dancing In The Dark is a cover of the Springsteen classic and while nobody does it better than The Boss, James comes hauntingly close as her rendition is a magnificent homage to the original while ensuring it sounds unique; not an easy task considering how popular Dancing In The Dark has been for Springsteen. It takes courage to cover a song like this on a debut and James should be applauded for not only attempting it, but nailing it.
Let Me Keep You (feat. Robert Glasper) is an incredible closing song. It compels me to listen to Hunter again and explore James’ growing catalogue. That said, to be completely honest, I’ve yet to listen to any of her other albums. I was so captivated by Hunter that I felt compelled to immediately pen a review. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does you know you’re listening to something very special. Let Me Keep You is most certainly one of those rare special songs and if you had any doubts while listening to Hunter, with regards to James’ musical ability, Let Me Keep You will silence those doubts for it is one of the greatest songs on the album and fades out so elegantly that you’ll likely be lost for words. It, really, is that good!
Overall, Hunter is an album that goes beyond the status of a debut. Yes, James released a live homage to Nina Simone some two years earlier, Morgan James Live, From Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola – A Celebration Of Nina Simone, but this remains the first studio album with a mix of original and cover songs that will captivate you from the very first note to the very last. Yes, Hunter may have been released in 2014, but it is thus far the best album that I’ve heard this year. Absolutely exceptional!