Taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

Greg Humphreys — Trunk Songs

Singer/songwriter Greg Humphreys is a man of many faces, musically that is. An artist who escapes categorization, Humphreys was instrumental in the bustling ’80s Chapel Hill music scene as singer and guitarist for seminal powerpop band Dillon Fence. He then gave us his take on enlightened funk in the mid-’90s when he formed Hobex, which has been held in high esteem since its inception. After more than two decades of notable electric work, he finally shows us his mellower acoustic side with his debut solo release Trunk Songs. The album’s title comes from an Irving Berlin biography and refers to unused compositions set aside for times when they might be more expedient. Though one might gather from the title that these songs are mere castaways, Humphreys seems to draw from a near bottomless well of inspiration and, with a few well-placed covers, has created something nearly unrecognizable when compared to his previous work. Trunk Songs coalesces elements of folk and country with Humphrey’s soulful r&b vocal styling into an album that elicits a feeling of inner consonance in its listener. Did I mention that Humphreys has friends? Guest performers include Ryan Cavanaugh on banjo, John Garris on violin and members of the Big Fat Gap. Gibb Droll (Keller Williams, Marc Broussard) graces the album on several tracks, thanks to what Humphreys calls a “serendipitous studio encounter,” and his playing provides a unique, highly syncopated texture that is simply a joy to behold. Humphreys and Droll enjoy a tranquil, yet moving exchange on the albums sole instrumental track “Vincent-ish,” a piece which displays each performers divergent strengths exceptionally well. Trunk Songs is yet another feather in the cap of a North Carolina treasure and an album that, despite its title, shouldn’t be stored away for any length of time.

The Urban Sophisticates — Classic Material

As one of the few instrumentally self-contained hip-hop acts on the North Carolina music scene, the Urban Sophisticates have had the luxury of taking the trial-and-error approach to making music. Though their live performances never failed to satisfy crowds looking for a good time, they were occasionally dismissed as merely a party band in their early days. Their first two releases took on somewhat of an experimental approach to hip hop as they sought out an identity that seemed to elude them… until now. Urban’s third release, Classic Material, is a more cohesive work that finds a place for Coward’s Anthem-experimentalism beside the radio-friendly hooks that should shed the party-band image once and for all. Lead vocalist Benton James sets the table with an atmospheric soliloquy, but the head-bobbers come in quick succession from there on. Starting with “Head Nod Hood Rock,” Classic Material blends the tasteful rhymes of James, the soulful voice of brother Aaron and the band’s intoxicating hooks, with minimal bumps along the way. I say that because “First of the Drinks,” the albums first single, suffers a bit of an identity crisis as it flip-flops between club crunk and smooth r&b. The album’s strength shows when it takes the Karl Denson approach to funk on tracks such as “Dance with Me” and “Melodies.” Singer Aaron James’ soaring vocals work well here with the talented horns and seamless rhythm section to produce the sound that may come to define the band. Classic Material might endure the occasional misstep, but there’s plenty of good to be found in what amounts to a great Friday and Saturday night soundtrack.

For a chance to have your band’s CD reviewed, mail it to: YES!Weekly, 5500 Adams Farm Lane, Suite 204, Greensboro, NC 27407. ATTN:Ryan Snyder.