Album review: Van Hunt, ‘What Were You Hoping For?’ (Godless Hotspot)

October 12, 2011

With Cee Lo Green standing as a singular exception—and, really, he’s almost a genre of his own—R&B has spent the long years since the ascendance of R. Kelly (and, arguably, Bobby Brown before him) mired in a creative morass of all-too-often unimaginative mid-tempo bedroom jams robbed of any shred of soul or originality by their simplistic vulgarity and fussy over-production.

What was I hoping for? Well, it’s hard to imagine better than singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Van Hunt.

Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, and having cut his musical teeth in Atlanta as part of the extended crew around ’90s alternative-rap heroes Arrested Development (his work with Dionne Farris was of particularly note), Hunt can rival the worst horror stories of abuse at the hands of the major labels. After a strong self-titled debut for Capitol in 2004 and an even better follow-up, On the Jungle Floor, in 2006, the suits moved him over to the Blue Note label, best known for its rich jazz canon, because he simply wasn’t selling enough records. He recorded an ironically titled disc, Popular, for that label in 2008, but the company “didn’t hear a hit,” failed to release it, and, adding insult to injury, refused to sell it back to him at a reasonable price so it could see the light of day somewhere else.

Now comes the more-or-less self-released What Were You Hoping For?, which not only is untainted by any hint of justifiable resentment, but is as joyful, free-ranging, and wildly inventive a psychedelic-soul classic as any you can name, from the Temptations’ Cloud Nine to Prince’s Around the World in a Day to, indeed, the best offerings from Cee Lo.

Though Hunt ranges far and wide in his musical influences, from hard rock to country to blues, the grooves always remain solid and the melodies super-seductive, making even the wildest, most genre-defying flights of fancy—“A Time Machine Is My New Girlfriend,” “Watching You Go Crazy Is Driving Me Insane,” or “Eyes Like Pearls”—instantly accessible and equally stimulating to brain and booty.

On the four-star scale: 3.5 STARS.