It's highly unlikely that many R&B fans will discover this North Carolina trio while casually flipping through the CD bins, since the cover art on "Back in the '90s" suggests the band is composed of cynical pop renegades. Turns out, though, the members of Hobex are latter-day soulmen intent on having a good time.
"Groove, Baby," the regional hit that serves as the album opener, celebrates R&B dance traditions with a rough hewn charm, equal parts frat house and roadhouse. The trio's influences are hard to mistake--Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, et al--but Hobex has neither the desire nor the vocal talent to mimic their role models. Instead, they conjure classic soul grooves and harmonies in their own laid-back fashion, and though the results are only mildly diverting at times, "The Love That's Inside," "Windows" and other tracks come across as a rootsy extension of the real thing.
The trio--singer/guitarist Greg Humphreys, singer/bassist Andy Ware and drummer Steve Hill--get a lot of help from keyboardist Brandon Bush and the Carrboro Horns (which includes Squirrel Nut Zippers trumpeter Je Widenhouse). Now that a label with wide distribution has picked up the album, the band may get some of the exposure it deserves--artwork notwithstanding.
Appearing Tuesday at the 9:30 club with the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
To hear a free Sound Bite from Hobex, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8116. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)