Release Date: Sep 28, 2010
Record label: Stones Throw
Genre(s): Rap, R&B, Soul, Neo-Soul, Contemporary R&B
All the promise of his debut comes true on Aloe Blacc’s sophomore release, Good Things, a vintage sound meets modern problems release with a way too modest title. Right from the opening “I Need a Dollar” -- which could be passed off as unreleased Bill Withers, no problem -- the album offers grand things, providing listeners with that solid, but not polarizing, style of social commentary Withers perfected. On the following cut, positivity is pushed (“Something special happened today/I got green lights all the way”) in a manner that’s far from sugary, but this singer who offers such warmth and humility on his smooth soul tracks is well aware of sin, and can get slinky in a Al Green style when warning against loose women on “Hey Brother.
It’s tempting to view [a]Aloe Blacc[/a]’s second album as a sort of period drama, decorated in the old-school sounds of a narked-off [b]Marvin Gaye[/b] and the funky, feel-good emancipation provided by the likes of [b]Donny Hathaway[/b]. There’s something strikingly fresh and full of vim about Blacc’s buttery-smooth delivery of songs loaded with hooks plenty enough to bring down a city of tenements. Much of this album, with its gritty street-level reportage of booze-alleviated dereliction and crooked politicians, feel so perfect for right now.
In a previous life, LA soul songwriter Aloe Blacc was known as E Nathaniel Dawkins and employed by Ernst & Young, a period that inspired the striking credit-crunch anthem that opens this album, I Need a Dollar. Having experienced life on both sides of the social divide, Blacc writes affectingly of the damage caused ("These families in the street with nothing to eat/ Little baby boys and girls, no shoes on their feet", he sings in Life So Hard), mixing conscious lyrics and avuncular warmth in a way that recalls Gil Scott-Heron. He also turns his hand expertly to romance: Blacc celebrates the end of a relationship on the title track, breezily phrasing above pinging wah-wah guitar, while on a murky cover of the Velvet Underground's Femme Fatale, he's convincingly shattered.
Aloe Blacc’s Good Things is a mature, well-crafted, and distinctive take on the basic blueprint of the neo-soul sound, the quasi-revival movement that embraced classic soul and funk tropes that had been abandoned by much of the R&B establishment. Horns abound throughout the album, and take-‘em-to-church organs (“Green Lights”) and Charles Pitts–style wah-wah guitar (“Hey Bother”) underpin the album’s mid-tempo grooves. But Good Things isn’t a purely retro offering, a la Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.
Hands up, who remembers the 1970s? OK, now who's gleaned a vague but evocative interpretation of the 70s through its music? Inevitability, the latter group is going to eventually outnumber the former group, and eventually the archivists and revisionists and reinterpreters will be all that's left. And while it'd be nice to think that this group of historical translators is going to do that weird, alternately maligned and lionized pop-music era justice, it's easy to overlook just how received some of that wisdom might be. Yes, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye were great-- but they were great when there wasn't an established standard for what Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye were yet.
Excellent recession-inspired second album from Californian hip hop/soul vocalist. Adam Kennedy 2010 With recession biting both sides of the Atlantic, there are tangible twinges of disquiet at the heart of Western living right now, tapped into with great effect on Californian vocalist Aloe Blacc’s second album. The anti-superficiality of left-leaning hip hop and the like has long represented a counter stance well trodden as the wealth-flashing rap it opposes.