Van Hunt - The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets (2015)

Van Hunt
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Those who have followed the quietly distinguished career of Van Hunt know that they are best advised to jettison expectations. Hunt would likely have more than a small but loyal band of followers had his output remained in the same vein as the material on his self-titled 2004 debut – or at least not gone any further left of field than 2006’s On The Jungle Floor.

But the independent spirit that is Van Hunt can’t help but tweak the system, and that is especially true in the aftermath of his tumultuous tenure at Blue Note. With 2010’s brilliantly defiant What Were You Hoping For, Hunt moved away from the kind of Sly Stone influenced funk of tunes such as “Highlights” and “Down Here in Hell” that had some ready to proclaim that 2004 was his moment. And even as Hunt circles back toward his funky roots on the excellent The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets - his latest - he does so on his own terms.

Those who have followed the quietly distinguished career of Van Hunt know that they are best advised to jettison expectations. Hunt would likely have more than a small but loyal band of followers had his output remained in the same vein as the material on his self-titled 2004 debut – or at least not gone any further left of field than 2006’s On The Jungle Floor.

But the independent spirit that is Van Hunt can’t help but tweak the system, and that is especially true in the aftermath of his tumultuous tenure at Blue Note. With 2010’s brilliantly defiant What Were You Hoping For, Hunt moved away from the kind of Sly Stone influenced funk of tunes such as “Highlights” and “Down Here in Hell” that had some ready to proclaim that 2004 was his moment. And even as Hunt circles back toward his funky roots on the excellent The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets - his latest - he does so on his own terms.

The “do it yourself” ethos can be seen in Hunt’s decision to crowd fund this record because that method of financing a project is tailor made for this rebellious Ohio native. It can be argued that crowd funding is the only predictable move that Hunt’s made since he emerged on the scene 11 years ago.

The title hints at fact that Hunt conceives The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets thematically as two distinct albums. The first half showcases Hunt’s love of deep, driving bass driven funk and his unique and playful take on serious issues such as his love of black women, and is filled Hunt’s wit and sexual tension.

That can be heard in the booming bass line and syncopated handclaps that propel the naughty “Vega (stripes on),” a tune that finds Hunt pining for someone who will bring his erotic fantasies into the real world. “What good is a good girl/In my wet dreams/I need a vessel/To shelter my fantasies/How good can a good girl really be/I’m the captain of this relation-ship.”

The delightfully short and jaunty “…Puddin,” with its wah, wah guitar riffs and shuffle march drums stands as Hunt injecting a level of humor and wit into a song that extols the desirability of the African-American female. “Her sister Cherry and Strawberry and Vanilla/Took me into the hills/And tried to beg, borrow and steal, my love/But I don’t what nuthin’ in my puddin’/But the chocolate.”

The other half of the album features ballads with filled with pathos, some regret and sage relationship advice. Part two also includes three high quality memorable tracks that showcase Hunt’s unparalleled talent as a lyricist. A sparse arrangement on “Headroom,” which consists primarily of piano and violin, serves as the appropriate canvas for Hunt to deploy a soft tenor to tell a story of regret for how cavalierly he treated his woman. Hunt’s vocals display a vulnerability and regret that is contained in his always brilliant lyric writing: “Every night, all night/I sleep on the floor/Wrestling with myself, tortured/Must have missed something/While out looking for more/Crushed by the one who I ignored.”

Hunt becomes relationship coach dispensing advice to brothers who say they can’t figure women out on “A Woman Never Changes.” Again, Hunt opts for a relatively simple arrangement, being accompanied by piano, bass and drum with string accompaniment on the song’s hook. The arrangement provides ample space for the listener to focus on the lyrics. “A woman never changes/Her desire only ranges between this and that/Yet she go through phases/She smight do some rearranging/Mixing and match/She want it all/Not just a little/She want it all/Not just a little/She want all of the top/All of the bottom/All of the middle of my love.”

Through all of the ups and downs and major label issues that Hunt has confronted over the last 11 years, through his bursts of creativity that make a Van Hunt album release delightfully unpredictable, this artist remains a known quantity to those who know about him in the only way that really matters. We know that every couple of years, Hunt will drop a record that is vividly creative and lyrically strong, and that trend continues with The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets. Strongly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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