Recording information: Clear Lake Studios; King-Sized North; The Dugout.
Photographer: Stefania Rosini.
The second studio album Van Hunt has released on his Godless-Hotspot label, The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets. was conceived with crowdfunding assistance. Even with full understanding of the drastic changes in the music industry since the late '70s, it's mystifying that an artist of Hunt's caliber resorted to that method -- especially so when his career is compared to that of fellow Dayton, Ohio natives Sun. The Capitol label stuck with that elder funk band for seven albums that yielded a grand total of one Top 20 R&B hit. Hunt made only two albums for Capitol, collected a Grammy, was shifted to Blue Note, had the dynamite Popular kept from the public, and then went independent. Here, Hunt didn't get assistance merely from his listeners. While he once again performs a high percentage of the instrumentation, he adds a little fresh blood, including Meshell Ndegeocello associates Jebin Bruni (keyboards) and Chris Bruce (guitar). Divided into thematic halves -- lengthwise like sides of a 60-minute cassette -- this work is Hunt's slyest and subtlest yet. Not one cut comes close to the throttlings dealt on What Were You Hoping For? A greater quantity of the grooves slowly unfurl, and they all have a slightly scuzzier, more glutinous quality. The first half begins and ends with lyrical and sonic highlights: "Vega (stripes on)," a swamp-funk churner, and "She Stays with Me," a warped tale with Hunt's howling vocal over a filthy bassline, smacking percussion, and creep-show synthesizer. The filling, including the flirtatious "Teach Me a New Language" and frolicsome "...Puddin'," is just as satisfying. When the fun sets for the second half, Hunt starts with a disarming ballad of repentance, "Headroom," that fully displays his undervalued songwriting and vocal skills. Like the previous album's "Moving Targets," it sounds classic from the first listen. The other song that employs a string section, "A Woman Never Changes," is another knockout, with each pluck a sweet sting that echoes Hunt's aching exhilaration regarding a complex, demanding love interest. He's one of the rare artists who can lay claim to four (or five) albums that are all distinct from one another, all him, all high quality. ~ Andy Kellman