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Feature February 26 2004

Capitol

Based on his '70s-styled debut, Atlanta soul man Van Hunt's apartment probably has shaggy white carpet, a Betamax and 8-track tapes. Similarly, his closets are likely filled with flared pants, platform shoes and Afro-picks.

Musically, Hunt locks into the era's legendary urban groove, concocting a smoothly sexy and combustive mix of Sly Stone, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Like Wonder and Prince — another obvious role model — he plays almost every instrument, crafting a personal yet universal sound that seldom seems dated, regardless of its antecedents.

The easy millennial tag for this music is "neo-soul," but Hunt's fluttering flute, greasy wah-wah guitar, occasional falsetto and lugubrious "Family Affair" rhythms on "Out of the Sky" and "Anything (to Get Your Attention)" reject simplistic categorizing. When the strings well up as on the ballad "Precious," the cushy production (also by Hunt) nearly sinks some songs. Thankfully, his emotionally tinged, Curtis Mayfield-inflected voice and solid sense of melody keep it from slipping into mushy Luther Vandross territory. At nearly an hour, though, the album's crushed velvet vocals and suave lover-man persona could use a little roughing up, if only to alter the vibe.

Like the R&B version of Norah Jones, Hunt establishes his somewhat eclectic turf, and then refines it through 12 beautifully conceived songs that rarely miss their mark. Flip on the lava lamp, slip in a video of Superfly and get your freak on.