Tommy Hunt

A Sign of the Times: Spark Recordings 1975-1976

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Tommy Hunt was a Pittsburgh-born journeyman R&B singer who had enjoyed success as a member of the Flamingos and scored a modest hit single with "Human," but his most lasting impact came in Europe and the United Kingdom, where Hunt found a loyal audience for his gruff but polished vocals on the cabaret circuit and later among British Northern soul fans, who hailed him as a neglected hero. During his time in England, Hunt cut a pair of albums for Spark Records, a specialist label that catered to Northern soul fans, and A Sign of the Times: The Spark Recordings 1975-1976 pairs them on a single CD. The 1976 studio album A Sign of the Times kicks off the set, dominated by tunes from the songwriting team of Eddie Adamberry and Tony Craig, though covers of Roy Hamilton's "Crackin' Up" and Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night" are also on board. The arrangements surprisingly don't lean especially strongly to the conventions of Northern soul, with many of the numbers leaning to early disco (complete with crisp string and horn charts) and others embracing a contemporary R&B ballad sound rather than mimicking classic soul dusties. But Hunt handles the material well, sounding passionate without pushing the histrionics, and if his voice is good rather than great, he's a showman who knows how to make the most of the emotional range of these tunes. Hunt the Showman is front and center on the second album, 1975's Live at Wigan Casino, recorded during a performance at the fabled Northern soul mecca; if Hunt seems a bit reserved in the studio, he comes to life in front of an audience, and though this set of covers only gives him so much to work with compared to the originals, Hunt sounds spirited and he clearly knows how to work a crowd, with this performance generating plenty of heat despite the flaws in the audio. A Sign of the Times isn't likely to convince anyone that Tommy Hunt was one of the great forgotten men of soul, but based on this material he certainly deserved a longer run in the spotlight than he received, and this is well worth a listen for soul and R&B completists.

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