Van Hunt is not the first artist to be enormously influenced by the freak show that is West Hollywood, California, but he’s added an exquisitely nuanced contribution to the city of angels-inspired musical cannon with his new album What Were You Hoping For?.
Like an African American counterpoint to his multi-instrumentalist/producer contemporaries Mark Ronson and Jon Brion, Hunt has balanced his solo career with bread-and-butter work as a producer, song doctor and writer for R&B and pop artists.
Hunt’s move from Atlanta to Los Angeles appears to have provided lyrical fodder for his new song cycle, along with the frustration-turned-freedom of moving from the major label sausage-making/”we need hits” machine to self-releasing What Were You Hoping For? on his own label, Godless Hotspot.
A musician’s musician, Hunt sounds as if he’s been unleashed from the restraints of placating pop markets and label suits, funneling all his inspirations and lucid dreams into what may be his most sonically pleasing work to date.
The lead track “North Hollywood” cuts deep link a slink bomb, melding funk, rock and pop rhythms and melodies into a silky bed underneath his note-perfect falsetto. In “A Time Machine Is My New Girlfriend,” the solipsistic lyrics drip with winks and grins while the chorus combines punk rock drums layered beneath a tasty, virtuoso rock and soul guitar work out. When Hunt bends multiple genres to his pleasure, with apparently no consideration of dumbing the music down for commercial appeal, he is at his best and most inventive.
Even on a slow-jam like “Moving Targets,” Hunt infuses so much originality and authenticity into the production and song craftsmanship that what could be a retro rehash under the authorship of a lessor talent rises up to ethereal indie soul unlike anything in the pop radio soundscape.
What Were You Hoping For? provides proof it’s no accident that Hunt received a 2006 Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals Grammy award for his contributions to a cover of “Family Affair” on a Sly Stone tribute album. Now if only the hoi polloi can catch up to Hunt’s 21st century indie rock and soul genre smashing.
Recommended for fans of Sly and the Family Stone, “Sign of the Times”-era Prince & the Revolution, What Were You Hoping For? possesses far-reaching musical ambition, deserving much more attention than it’s receiving in our music-saturated web 3.0 era.
Both photos of Van Hunt by Sharon Goss