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Van Hunt 

Van Hunt

Wednesday, May 12 2004
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Atlanta's Van Hunt is the latest R&B singer/songwriter being compared to Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, and all the others you'd expect. Frankly, the modern-day soul-master tag is tiresome, a euphemism for "a black man who plays real instruments." Hunt does sound eerily like Mayfield as a vocalist -- velvet falsetto, uncanny phrasing -- but analyze the actual songs and it's obvious that Hunt, while only 26, is really a child of the '80s. Underneath all that sensuous, acoustic instrumentation is an electro-pop, wuss-ballad, radio-ready heart.

Hunt mostly forgoes the heavy one-beat of funk. Instead, he leans on melodies and choruses that hit you in the gut, regardless of tempo. The slow stuff simmers and soars, as on the heavily overdubbed "Seconds of Pleasure" and "What Can I Say (For Millicent)"; the latter is frighteningly evocative of high-maintenance chick Fiona Apple, perhaps the result of Apple producer and EMI President Andrew Slater's co-production credit here. The uptempo tunes, meanwhile, show Hunt in love with the androgynous, dance-floor rock that once dominated pop (think the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack without the keyboards). Heck, "Dust" and "Highlights" possess shuffling rock rhythms worthy of video choreography, Jheri curls, and enormous hoop earrings.

Van Hunt's music, then, is a strange mix of naturalism and artifice, tough to deconstruct but a thrill to explore. In that respect, Hunt evokes Prince, grabbing the elements of prototypical black music while taking the risk of capturing something fresh.

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Christopher O'Connor

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