When: Fri., Oct. 7, 10 p.m. 2011
In late 2007 singer-songwriter Van Hunt suffered a fate that's befallen many major-label artists who don't fit easily into a marketable niche: he got dropped. Advance copies of his third album, Popular, went out to the press (in some cases reviews even ran), but the record soon disappeared from Blue Note's release schedule—a shame, because it was a strong, quirky piece of work. Hunt got his start in Atlanta as a songwriter in the late 90s—he's had his tunes recorded by the likes of Dionne Farris, Rahsaan Patterson, and Joi—but he soon cut some terrific material of his own that pushed against the unwritten rules of the nascent neosoul movement, doing without the obligatory hip-hop flavor and tossing in a bit of rock. Nearly four years after Blue Note showed him the door, he's finally released his next album, What Were You Hoping For? (Thirty Tigers/Godless-Hotspot), but now that he doesn't have a label looking over his shoulder, he often seems more concerned with exercising his artistic freedom than creating music worthy of his talent; he uses lots of crunching hard-rock guitar, which occasionally makes him sound like an outre Lenny Kravitz. Beneath the posturing, there are some terrific songs and solid performances—a kind of strained soul, wriggling under the guitar-heavy arrangements. I suppose it's possible that this is what Hunt had in his head all along, in which case I may have overestimated his gifts. —Peter Margasak Empress Hotel opens.