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Aloe Blacc, a soul-music treasure
In the wake of his hit song “I Need a Dollar”—a track made newly famous by this year’s HBO comedy-drama series How to Make It in America—soul singer Aloe Blacc released Good Things in September, his second studio album with Stones Throw Records.
Good Things stands as a marvel of modern rhythm and blues, with contemporary lyrical themes soaked in a retro-soul backdrop. The 13-track album makes plain plenty of talent and hard work on the crooner’s part.
Good Things could easily have turned out as yet another R&B album regrettably nostalgic for the 1970s, one of many others flooding the airwaves ad nauseam. However, if Aloe Blacc’s latest opus shows a resolutely strong old-school aesthetic, the music ambitiously rises to the level of the genre’s best—Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and Al Green—renewing the style at the same time. The 31-year-old Blacc stays faithful to the spirit of his influences without imitative mimicking. Featuring fiery melodies, Blacc’s controlled tenor (the singer admits to working his rich voice daily), and a beautiful mélange of dizzying bass and organ lines, warm brass and funk guitars, Good Things is superbly produced by Jeff Dynamite and Leon Michels.
Shine Through—the full-length, 2006 album follow-up to his spare début, 2003’s The Aloe Blacc EP—dabbled in Blacc’s numerous influences: gospel, hip-hop, electro and Latin musics. With Good Things, the singer’s eclecticism is still evident but in a more subtle fashion. For proof, witness his masterly cover of the Velvet Underground’s famed “Femme Fatale,” or the album closer, “Politician (Reprise),” an instrumental explosion of rock, soul and funk.
“My purpose for music is positive social change (…) Even if the music itself does not explicitly express anything that may signify positive social change, the product of the music will,” said Aloe Blacc in a recent interview. His songwriting often cleaves to the tradition of protest songs from the 1960s and ’70s. Blacc is fond of explaining that he ultimately wrote “I Need a Dollar” after getting fired from a job like many of us these days; we don’t need you anymore, thanks for everything, bye. But Good Things also stands as a charge against a certain system that leaves more and more people aside. “The key to everything for everybody here in America is the money,” he says.
Good Things navigates between testimonies that reveal the failings of modern society and songs about love rather than clichéd “love songs.”
When it comes to singing about love, Aloe Blacc stays far from the overwrought sentimentality polluting our radios and televisions daily. Some of his lyrical themes deal with revenge (“Since you’ve been gone, it’s been a lot of good things going on”); some with disillusion (“Loving you is killing me”); and the magnificent love song “If I” sounds like a laundry list of questions echoing the fears and doubts of this young century.
Aloe Blacc offers up a solid album far from the schmaltzy crooners and egocentric, materialistic rappers of the day. And that’s a really good thing.
Aloe Blacc’s official site