while those who ushered in the so-called neo-soul movement during the mid- and late 1990s continue to be missing in action (maxwell, d'angelo), or are sporadic and/or mercurial in their public appearances and creative output (d'angelo [again], erykah badu, lauryn hill), people with an affinity for r&b/soul/black music etc. are resigned to sift through a crop of neatly packaged, young, black singer-songwriter/musicians who leave many uttering, "i know there must be something better than this." the carefully crafted and monitored images of the predictable and musically unadventurous john legend and alicia keys, the gritty "ghetto and blues" of fantasia and lyfe jennings, and the work of those riding on the coattails of their neo-soul foremothers and fathers (musiq, jill scott, et. al.) with their easily codifiable personas, and terribly inconsistent work--which often sound like first drafts of spoken word "poems" and black history month speeches and essays--hardly satisfy the appetite of soul music aficionados with a desire for something pithy and lasting.
there's a gem or two, of course. as the aforementioned continue to reap the benefits of the hype that fluffs their musical shortcomings, van hunt is steadily amassing an impressive body of work that should continue to garner the praises of critics and music lovers everywhere. though a definite exit from his debut (2004's van hunt), hunt's second album in as many years is highly impressive, and will--like its predecessor--more than likely be one of the best albums of the year most folk won't hear, despite the fact that hunt is very closely linked to american idol judge, randy jackson.
though his oeuvre only features two full-length albums and an appearance or two on a few movie soundtracks, hunt's no newcomer. he sports a respectable resume. hunt co-wrote "hopeless" with dionne farris (who was, arguably, before her time), and the record "mean sleep," which appeared on the debut album of a different world star-turned lenny kravitz protege, cree summer; along with nikka costa, hunt does a great cover of the latter on jungle. if one recalls anything from those two tracks, it's their refreshing lyrical content. with jungle, hunt continues to evolve as a songwriter, picking up where he left off on his debut. lyrically, the man is gifted. and his maturation is evident on this latest effort. with pithy reflections such as, "words are the changes that we take/was it better left unexplained?" on the melancholy "daredevil," the alliterative, "her winter coat and sexy tokes on camel smokes" on "being a girl," and his eloquent pledge to be faithful to an absent lover on the provocative and hypnotically sexy "priest or police," make hunt's peers look silly in their attempts at clever songwriting, their efforts coming off as asininely presumptuous in comparison.
though many of the influences may be the same (sly, jimi, prince, et. al.), hunt is no member of some third wave neo-soul cohort. if anything, on the jungle floor further solidifies his individuality, his distance from others. as a whole, this album exhibits hunt's confidence. he is, perhaps, less self-aware. with no sophomore jinx to conquer (hunt's debut barely cracked the top 40 upon its release), hunt takes leaps and adventures his more famous counterparts are too scared, or not talented enough to make. though not flawless, what results is a fierce compilation of songs that defy convention and genre; jungle entices and satisfies parts of our palate we forgot existed.
personal picks: "hot stage lights"; "being a girl"; "priest or police"
cop: van hunt (2004); on the jungle floor (2006)
website: van hunt
language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison