Leave it to Chapel Hill's Greg Humphreys and his band Hobex to create a CD like Wisteria. Their latest album recalls the warm, linty familiarity we had with vinyl records before the flashy, sparkling quality of compact discs came along and ruined it for everyone. On Wisteria, Hobex gives us some of the elements we've come to miss in music, among them the dual-sided personality of the LP and the intimacy supplied by stripped-back, economic recordings that hark back to a time when passion never got lost in production.
It's no shocker that Hobex's musicians joyride down memory lane with their revered back-porch, blue-eyed soul on the first half of the album, which includes songs like the Al Greenish "Ain't Pushin' Baby" and the festive, "Say Yeah!" But it is quite something that Humphreys allows us to be a part of the songs that make up the "flip side." These tracks, seemingly still in blueprint form, are beautiful, heartbroken love letters that "she" will never hear, set to a lonely, 4 a.m. guitar. Although Humphreys is helped along by bassist Andy Ware and Squirrel Nut Zipper Jimbo Mathus on guitar, these latter songs are so intimately his that it feels like snooping just to be within earshot. Whether it's the Mathus-penned "Stop Startin' Over" or the cover of Sam Cooke's "That's Where It's At," Humphreys' versions let us come so close we even hear his callus hit the bass string. "My Heart Is A Radio" is one of the album's loveliest tunes: Humphreys' guitar weaves masterfully through the lyrics, "I tune you in/I tune you out/You don't even know what I'm about/I tune you out."
Wisteria may be a bummer for some Hobex diehards because of its overall lack of windows-rolled-down-all-the-way spirit|and that concept is nothing new for this band. --lynn bryan|but the step the group has taken here--a step back --demands respecct.