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Van Hunt | Features

Artist Of The Month


On The Jungle Floor

Van Hunt"One day I heard music - maybe it was 'When Doves Cry' or 'Mary Jane,' something I really loved - and it opened a whole other world for me," says Van Hunt. "As a kid, the road is wide open, and that excitement is what I want from a record. That's who I make music for, that same kid in me."

With On The Jungle Floor, Hunt unleashes a sound that contains both the energy of youth and the wisdom of experience. The album is a follow-up to Van Hunt, his widely-hailed, Grammy-nominated 2004 debut. The New York Times described that album as "the perfect soundtrack for any seduction," while People magazine called him "the next great soul artist." Rolling Stone simply stated that with the release of Van Hunt, "the bar has been raised." Artists including Mary J. Blige and Adam Clayton of U2 lined up to sing the young artist 's praises, and he was honored with a Grammy nod for "Best Urban/Alternative Performance."

But Hunt wasn't content to stick with that album's approach. Where the debut introduced the Dayton-born singer/songwriter's organic brew of rock-laced R&B, the fourteen songs on the new album add funkier, freakier new flavors. "Some of it sounds like the Isley Brothers," says Hunt, "and some of it sounds like the Smiths." In interviews that followed the release of Van Hunt, he spoke about his love for rock, punk, and blues; with On The Jungle Floor, he let those influences rise to the surface.

Hunt credits his diverse tastes to a mother who supported his early interest in music, to his "part-time painter/part-time pimp" father, and to the Southern Ohio soil where he was raised. The Cincinnati-Dayton axis - truly a unique spot on the American map where north meets south, east meets Midwest, urban meets rural - has produced such funkateers as Bootsy Collins, the Isley Brothers, Slave, Zapp, and Hunt's favorites, the Ohio Players. "They really are the backbone of it," he says. "They were jazz musicians, but sugarfoot put the blues on it...made it smell right."

He took that eclectic sensibility to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College, and began writing and producing for a new breed of soul artists including Joi and Dionne Farris. Hunt was working with super-producer Dallas Austin until his manager, a pre-"American Idol" Randy Jackson, encouraged him to step forward as an artist, and brought him to Capitol Records. The result was the Van Hunt album, followed by an extensive tour - both as a headliner and appearing alongside such artists as The Roots, Seal, Angie Stone, Coldplay and Kanye West - that received rave reviews. No less than Alicia Keys stepped up to call Hunt "one of the most incredible musicians I know."

Emboldened by such acclaim, Hunt went back into the studio with a new sense of confidence and purpose. "The first album was more muted, more shy," he says. "This time, I had more skill, confidence and faith that I could step forward and take chances."

"Also, I learned to trust myself. On the first album, I realized that when I stuck to my guns, those were my favorite songs. You might hear some initial criticism of a song or an idea, but you stick to it because you can feel that it's right; but, it's for you to protect. And where I am right now, I couldn't go out any other way - I'm going to live and die on the art and craft of what I do."

From the jagged guitar grooves on the opening "If I Take You Home" (reminiscent of classic Rick James-style "punk-funk") to the stomping garage rock of "Ride, Ride, Ride," throughout On The Jungle Floor, Hunt creates a brave new sound that's truly his own. While other "modern" artists look back to a classic approach they're trying to recreate, Hunt keeps his eyes pointed forward. The album's most surprising moment is his sexy, percolating version of "No Sense of Crime," by original Detroit punks the Stooges. "If you do a cover, you want it to be cool," says Hunt. "I bought that record on a whim, loved it, and knew that I could do that song justice."

The album is characterized by a loose, raw feel that couldn't be further from most of today's sterile, high-gloss R&B. "I love raw demos," he says, "and that's what I'd put out if left to my own devices. I want to avoid getting too cute or too artsy, and make sure that the spark that was there at the outset is still shining."

In conversation, Hunt returns over and over to the idea that his job is to serve the songs. He considers himself a "singer/songwriter at heart," and acknowledges the challenges of following an unconventional muse in the contemporary marketplace. "I'm pioneering new territory," he says. "I come up as a young black artist and I'm not rapping - I know it's a hard sell." Recalling the less-titillating part of his father's work, he frequently compares the recording process to painting, and concludes that, in the end, "people just want you to excite them for three and a half minutes."

On The Jungle Floor delivers that excitement, over and over. And for Van Hunt, it's just the next step towards a greater goal. "I only hope to get closer to the sound inside my head," he says. "I generally miss the mark, but it's so much fun to try."

On The Jungle Floor
Van Hunt - On The Jungle Floor Track Listing:
1. Intro
2. If I Take You Home (Upon...)
3. Hot Stage Lights
4. Daredevil, Baby
5. Ride, Ride, Ride
6. Being a Girl
7. Suspicion (She Knows Me Too Well)
8. Mean Sleep featuring Nikka Costa
9. Priest or Police
10. Character
11. Interlude
12. No Sense of Crime
13. At the End of a Slow Dance
14. Thrill of This Love
15. Hole in My Heart
16. Night Is Young
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Van Hunt
Van Hunt - Van Hunt Track Listing:
1. Dust
2. Seconds Of Pleasure
3. Hello Goodbye
4. Down Here In Hell (With You)
5. What Can I Say (For Millicent)
6. Anything (To Get Your Attention)
7. Highlights
8. Precious
9. Her December
10. Hold My Mind
11. Who Will Love Me In Winter
12. Out Of The Sky
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