Picks and Pans Review: Van Hunt

updated 04/10/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/10/2006 01:00AM

On the Jungle Floor

REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD

CRITIC'S CHOICE

ALT-R&B

If you want proof of Randy Jackson's ability to spot real talent—not those "pitchy" singers he has to endure on American Idol—take a listen to his main dog, Van Hunt. The alternative soul man, who is managed by Jackson, will floor you with his sensational second CD, which actually improves upon his excellent but underappreciated debut, 2004's Van Hunt. The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is the perfect antidote to all those Usher wannabes macking on the R&B airwaves. Indeed, you won't find any signs of crunk, any samples or anything remotely resembling hip-hop in Hunt's Jungle. But you will find a slew of other styles deftly handled—from jazzy funk to psychedelic pop—as Hunt stretches out with more confidence and daring. He rocks harder than ever on the revved-up "Ride, Ride, Ride," while creating a chilled-out cabaret vibe on "Hole in My Heart."

The only song he didn't write is a bluesy, greasy-good cover of "No Sense of Crime" by proto-punkers the Stooges. Sure, Hunt owes a lot to his progenitors: His creamy falsetto and breezy guitar on the luscious "The Thrill of This Love" recall early Prince, and he evokes Curtis Mayfield with the self-probing message of "Character" ("Who are you/ In the face of disappointment/ Where is your character/ The one that keeps you going"). Two albums in, though, you get the feeling Hunt could be starting a legacy of his own.

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DOWNLOAD THIS: "Character"

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