Sharply rendered and sonically compelling personal statement from the Dillon Fence/HOBEX mainman.
BY FRED MILLS
Easily the most soulful record in recent memory, Haymaker is the latest by the remarkably prolific Greg Humphrey, whose musical CV stretches back to the late ‘80s, when he steered Chapel Hill alt-popsters Dillon Fence to national acclaim. Next came the funkier HOBEX, barnstorming through the ‘00s; after that he simply opted to perform under his own name (check out the Blurt review of 2013’s Bohemia), as well as with his Electric Trio, now on their third album and based in New York City. Like both Dillon Fence—who still get together occasionally for gigs—and HOBEX, Humphreys’ musical inspirations are as focused as the music itself is nuanced and sharply rendered; there’s always been a confidence and precision to Humphreys, a clear-eyed student of rock ‘n’ roll who intuitively grasps where all the myriad intersections are located. The results wind up feeling utterly natural and unforced, as opposed to coming across like someone who is merely genre-hopping.
To these ears, the album’s obvious standout is “Coming to Get You”: it sounds almost like a long-lost Curtis Mayfield track, what with its bumping, hypnotic bassline, subtle deployment of horns, edgy guitar riffs (which one minute have a spikey, upper-neck quality, and then the next a heavy psychedelic component), and of course those vocals, effortlessly slipping between registers. Yet every one of Haymaker’s seven tracks offers something unique, from the undulating funk-pop of the title track and the almost Afro-beat vibe of “Blood From a Stone” (the arpeggiated guitar licks would be at home on a Fela Kuti record), to the dreamy, passionate “Soldier Boy” and the country-tinged “Say You Love Me.”
With his blue-eyed soul approach to vocals serving as through-line for the songs, his guitar work drawing from an equally rich palette of textures, and the rhythm section of Matt Brandau (bass) and Keith Robinson (drums) displaying the kind of time-shifting dexterity that most bands can only dream of, Humphreys essentially distills the most compelling elements of Dillon Fence and HOBEX—old fans of his previous outfits may get a few easter eggs in the process—while conjuring a thoroughly contemporary vibe that’s nigh-on irresistible. This may be a band of equals, but the Greg Humphreys Electric Trio is still as personal a statement as it comes.
DOWNLOAD: “Coming to Get You,” ”Blood From a Stone”