HOBEX

"U Ready, Man?"

Tone Cool

For the first half of the '90s, Greg Humphreys fronted Dillon Fence, a North Carolina jangle-rock quartet that saw such former opening acts as Hootie and the Blowfish pass it on the road to glory. When his former band split, Humphreys founded Hobex, which brought Dillon Fence's soul undertones to the forefront. The switch wasn't a major breakthrough, but Humphreys's versatile voice and melodic gifts made the first two Hobex albums pleasant diversions.

Yet the singer-songwriter is apparently concerned that he'll be left behind again. So the new "U Ready, Man?" boosts Hobex's jam-band profile -- a shift that's partially the responsibility of new drummer Dustin Clifford -- with long, uneventful organ and sax solos. The album includes some tunes that are nearly worthy of such Hobex inspirations as Al Green and Curtis Mayfield, notably the silky "So Far Away" and the gravelly "You Had to Tell." Too many of the tracks meander, however, and such fabricated or actual oldies as "Li'l Lady" or Asylum Choir's "Soul Food" venture dangerously close to parody. Revamped as a soul man, Humphrey doesn't seem any more ready for the big time than he did a decade ago.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Tuesday at IOTA. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Hobex, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8125. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)

Hobex, a little more jam band than before.