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"On The Junglefloor": Van Hunt
by Michael Heyliger
I  love it when musicians think outside the box
and combine genres of music-especially artists
who successfully combine contemporary
elements with a genuine sense of daring and
artistry. A general appreciation for lower
common denominator ideals has resulted in a
music landscape in which every male singer
sounds like R. Kelly, every female singer
sounds like Mariah, and every MC sounds like 50 Cent or Jay-Z. I
thank goodness for folks who've been fairly successful combining a
multitude of influences and not conforming to what a label executive
or radio programmer thinks their music should sound like.

When Van Hunt's debut album came out two years ago, I knew that
this was a guy I was *supposed* to like, but his music sort of left me
cold. I appreciated the fact that he was a musician's musician, with a
pleasing voice and a sound that went from "neo-soul" to damn near
rock, but nothing on his freshman effort stuck to my ribs, leaving me
with an album that I appreciated but didn't particularly like.

Well, Van's back for round two, and the result is an album that holds
up a lot better than his previous one. Although there are definitely
still flaws here, "On The Jungle Floor" is a pleasingly eclectic piece of
music that jumps from pop balladry to Sly Stone-esque funk to
aggressive rock with continuity and ease. It's hard to imagine this
album being any kind of successful, as the music is a bit challenging
for "urban" radio, but it's nice to see Hunt not watering down his
sound despite the relative failure of his debut.

The album's highlights cover a variety of musical styles. The falsetto
peaks of "The Thrill of This Love" will remind many of the best parts of
N.E.R.D.'s "In Search Of...", but the sassy femme background vocals
and low-slung guitar strum give it a bit more oomph. "Ride, Ride,
Ride" is a rave-up that makes me imagine what Lenny Kravitz would
sound like if he got back off autopilot, while "At The End of a Slow
Dance" stops just short of being an 80's new-wave homage, with
squealing, high-pitched guitars suggesting A Flock of Seagulls meets
"1999"-era Prince. The popping bass and spare sound of "No Sense
of Crime" suggests Sly & The Family Stone, which is why it's surprising
that the song is actually a cover of an old Iggy Pop song from the
70's.

The more "traditional" stuff works as well. "Being a Girl" combines a
traditional funk/soul melody with a drum machine that could easily
service as the backdrop for any hip-hop/R&B song that you would bop
to in the club. It retains the danceability of a song like "My Humps"
and adds an actual sense of musicianship behind it. Elsewhere,
"Mean Sleep" is a tense, strongly sung ballad with labelmate Nikka
Costa. With soulful vocals, Costa takes a small step towards
redeeming herself after the foul stench her last album left. "Hole in My
Heart" is a midtempo, jazzy jaunt that will have you snapping your
fingers, while "Daredevil, baby" is possibly the strongest ballad on
the album, with Hunt's whispery vocal set against mournful piano and
rumbling percussion mixed way down low. About halfway through,
the drums come on full blast, and the result is a borderline
psychedelic, dreamy coda to a great song.

It's pretty obvious that Van Hunt is influenced by all the right
people-he apparently has equal appreciation for the beacons of 70's
soul (Marvin, Stevie) as he does for the genre-bending funk/rock
icons like Prince and Sly. If his first album suggested a musician who
was capable of one day making a great album, "On The Jungle Floor"
*is* that great album. Despite a couple of so-so songs and an
unnecessarily long running time (come on, 16 tracks is overdoing
it...you could've given us a tight 11-track joint), Hunt's sophomore
release marks a giant step forward for the artist and is quite possibly
the most solid R&B release of this young year.

Find more info about Van Hunt website at:
www.vanhunt.com