CD Review Steve Hammer Van Hunt Van Hunt On The Jungle Floor Capitol Records It’s been a difficult few years for the lovers of the kind of classic soul music that Van Hunt makes. With teen-pop and neo-punk taking up most of the attention of record labels and radio, there hasn’t been a whole lot of gutbucket soul making its way to the public. Luckily, Van Hunt is here to change all of that. His debut album was a breath of fresh air in 2004. Hunt’s savvy combination of Riot-era Sly Stone with the sexual advocacy of Prince made for an irresistible combination. Hunt can croon like the Purple One and then plumb the depths of despair like Sly. And his live performances showed that he’s a great showman and entertainer, just like his icons. After such a great debut, the second album was bound to show signs of a sophomore slump. Happily, On The Jungle Floor breaks that notion early on and stands as one of the great albums of the 21st century. In an era where second-rate entertainers such as Usher are topping the R&B charts, Hunt is authentic. Listen to his falsetto on “The Thrill of This Love,” which sounds like it could be an outtake from Prince’s 1999 album. But it’s not a copycat job; it just so happens that Prince and Hunt share the same aesthetic sense of what a slow love song should be. Other songs evoke the image of Curtis Mayfield, who stood alone in the 1970s with an anti-drug, pro-life message. Mayfield wasn’t afraid to deal in harsh truths and neither is Hunt. “Character” takes on those issues head-on, questioning one’s ability to deal with heartbreak and turning it into a test of integrity. Integrity is a key word of Hunt’s young career. Sure, he’s influenced by the legends who came before him, but Hunt comes to his sound honestly and without pretense. “Ride, Ride, Ride” is an up-tempo number with interesting tempo shifts quite unlike anything else. And it’s hard to imagine someone taking a Stooges song and making it sound like a long-lost Otis Redding classic, but that’s exactly what Hunt does with “No Sense of Crime.” Of course, Al Green used to take songs from unlikely influences and turn them into heart-wrenching soul classics, but no one in contemporary music dares even try that now. Hunt not only does it, he does it so well that imitators are likely to try it again. Hunt is an intriguing songwriter, full of promise. He utilizes surprise as well as any current musician. He’ll lead you down one path and then take you on another. A soulful song will be infused with the energy of rock and roll. He’ll get all jazzy, only to switch things up. He touches on pop and psychedelia and even punk in his material, never seeming like anything else but a music lover. And that’s the ultimate joy of Van Hunt’s music. He loves it all, from the Beatles to Beethoven, both of whom make brief stylistic cameos. On The Jungle Floor is a mini-masterpiece of love, happiness, transcendence and sex, set to a multitude of funky beats. In an era where artists are encouraged to adopt one sound and beat it to death, Hunt is a wonderful exception. While he’s still on his way up, there seems to be little doubt at this point that he’s going to be around for years and years to come, because authentic soul music is a rare commodity. Hunt has soul to spare.