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Charlie Hunter: Songs From the Analog Playground

It may still be accurate to describe Charlie Hunter as a guitarist, but his incredible facility on his altered beast of an instrument and setup-three bass strings, five guitar strings, two amps and specially fanned frets-set him a country mile apart from a typical six-stringer. The attributes that made his name-impossibly thick chords, relentless syncopation, independent bass lines-are in evidence on Songs From the Analog Playground, but they are far from the main attraction. A chilled-out Hunter takes a supporting role on this one, giving nearly all the lead-time to the vocalists, and splitting the leftovers with longtime cohort saxophonist David Ellis; percussionists Chris Lovejoy and Stephen Chopek round out the band. The resulting recording falls somewhere between a vocal-jazz thing and an R&B thing, which is probably what Hunter had in mind all along. Predictably, Playground sinks or swims with the singers.

Of the four vocalists who take turns at the microphone, honors go to Galactic frontman Theryl de’Clouet, whose ragged and water-starved voice wrings every last ounce of soul from Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Mighty Mighty” and Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful.” Rapper Mos Def tries to follow suit and turns soul singer on “Creole.” While he hardly rises to de’Clouet’s standard, he acquits himself admirably. His is also the voice on the catchy, percussion-driven “Street Sounds,” which opens the album. The band switches gears for newly signed Blue Note singer Norah Jones, copping a softer, Gilbertolike vibe for her breezy alto. It’s not bad, but it’s not the band’s strongest suit either. Kurt Elling dominates his two selections, making them sound like outtakes from his own records.

Originally Published