Last Saturday’s Sings Like Hell concert series showcased two highly talented, yet intriguingly varied artists whose one commonality might be an appreciation of-and deep respect for-the legacy of Sam Cooke. San Francisco-based ambient folkie Sean Hayes initiated the evening on a mellow note. Coming off like a laid-back raconteur, Hayes, with his lanky frame and relaxed style, laconically recounted tales of playing at a San Diego yoga studio accompanied by dancing yoga-babes-as well as having worn a suit covered with plastic forks during a surreal gig in Alabama-in between his eclectic tunes.
“Alabama Chicken,” a ballad to a fortune-telling bird, was a funky freaky folk song, while “Dolores Guerrero,” which was written about the San Francisco earthquake, featured a refreshing reggae beat. “In Deep With You” was Hayes’s Sam Cooke moment, where his vocals really shined. “Flowering Spade” and “A Thousand Tiny Pieces,” by contrast, recalled the music of Tim Buckley with their poetic plaintiveness and richly emotive singing.
Beguiling Brit James Hunter was anything but mellow. Taking the stage with confidence, Hunter was a loquacious, flamboyantly cheeky addition to the mix. The compact dynamo came off as equal parts retro-blues master and stand-up comic, trading barbs with his super-tight backup band and performing some of the most jaw-dropping blue-eyed soul that the Lobero had ever seen.
Hunter was an uncanny mimic in the vocals department-expertly channeling Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and James Brown with a twist of Steve Marriott. But beyond that, watching Hunter’s fingers fly around his frets-and his sheer exhilaration in the joy of playing-was a thing of beauty. Elements of Wes Montgomery and B.B. King percolated through Hunter’s fluid fingers as he mixed originals “No Smoke Without Fire,” “Don’t Do Me No Favours,” “Class Act,” and the ska-flavored “Carina” with stellar covers of Leiber and Butler’s “Down Home Girl,” and The “5” Royales’s “Think.”
Hunter rounded out the night with a call and response number that got the audience singing and dancing in the aisles as he paid homage to the great Chuck Berry with a variation of the Duck Walk that left us wanting more.