Van Hunt

Van Hunt

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With too much "rhythm" and not enough "blues," contemporary R&B circa 2004 has become overly slick, commercial, and almost emotionless, no matter how hard the vocalist is expressing his love jones. Which is why Van Hunt's debut is so refreshing. Although the Atlanta-based auteur (he wrote or co-wrote all the songs and plays nearly every instrument) clearly has an early-'70s fixation, his heady mix of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, and Prince makes for a thrilling and often moving album. Like Stevie Wonder, another obvious influence, Hunt spices his soul with memorable melodies, overdubbing his own backing vocals and singing these hip-hop-free tunes like he's lived them. Lyrically, he's loved and lost -- often he seems on the verge of both when he croons "love without pain would leave me wonderin' why I stay" -- but remains hopeful that true romance is just over the horizon. His vulnerable vocals mesh flawlessly with the smoky musical vibe and each track is near perfect in its balance of funk, soul, and R&B. Not just for those into "quiet storm" bedroom music, Hunt has fashioned a classic R&B album that has as many edgy "Family Affair" moments ("Anything (To Get Your Attention)") as smooth grooves (the string-laden "Precious"). If it had been released in 1978, it would still be impressive. But arriving in early 2004, the disc heralds Hunt as a tremendously talented if hardly groundbreaking artist, with a sure sense of craftsmanship all too rare in his genre. Retro enough to recall the golden age of soul, Hunt's music is so classy and timelessly constructed that he never turns into a caricature.

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