Aloe Blacc - Good Things
Record Label: Stones Throw Records
Release Date: September 28, 2010
Egbert Dawkins, also known as Aloe Blacc, is an artist who never seems to stop evolving. Throughout the 90s he was the voice of indie hip-hop duo Emanon, showcasing his skills as an MC as well as his unique vocal stylings. His debut solo album Shine Through was an interesting mix of R&B and hip-hop influences, but felt a bit confused at times. It was never quite clear which direction was Blacc looking to take his music. His soulful crooning and thoughtful lyrics combined so perfectly that it was hard to pigeonhole him, and he seemed on the verge of nailing down a sound that few could replicate.
But of course, Blacc is never one to stay confined to one note for long. His latest offering Good Things is an experiment with the classic soul and funk sounds of the 70s, channeling the best of greats like Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway into a modern album that deals with present day problems. Much of what those past artists fought against through their music remain issues we haven't fully taken care of after all these years. Much like John Legend and The Roots in their recent cover album Wake Up!, Blacc highlights these problems in a decidedly old-school way, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Good Things opens with the very first single, a piano and bass driven track titled “I Need a Dollar.” While the song sounds upbeat when taken at face value, serious and upsetting subject matter bubbles just below the surface. Blacc's voice remains strong throughout while still conveying a twinge of sadness, an important feat when dealing with the themes in the song. With a horn section that hides a bit behind his vocal talent before revealing themselves impressively during the last few choruses, this track is a great choice for an album opener as well as a single.
Blacc's knowledge of the genre is showcased admirably throughout the whole of Good Things. “Hey Brother” carries the unique guitar effects of the late funk movement while warning men about the trifling women in their lives. “Life So Hard” details the sometimes overwhelming amount of things that make life harder than it has to be and exhibit some of Blacc's best vocals on the album. Lastly, the title track “Good Things” is a subtle mixture of both old-school and modern genre standards. Blacc is easy to empathize with as he details being scorned by a lover, framed by keyboards and a chorus that gets the job done without overpowering Blacc's own vocals. Although production was handled by a number of other artists, it's evident that Blacc really did his homework when creating this album. His voice has the uncanny ability to amaze while at the same time making it look easy.
The highlight of Good Things comes in the form of two side-by-side tracks near the middle of the album. “Femme Fatale” tells the classic story of being seduced by a mysterious woman. Blacc's vocals are on point as always, and prove to be the best part of the repetitive track. While the production is nothing to write home about, the ever-present horns are a real treat. Although it is a cover of a song by The Velvet Underground, Blacc manages to take what made that song interesting and completely make it his own. The track segues immediately into “Loving You is Killing Me,” a track driven mostly by a simple drum beat, keyboard chords, and the combination of vocals from both Blacc and the backing chorus. While the chorus is kept rather unremarkable throughout the rest of the album, they are given a chance to shine in this track. It's upbeat and, although a bit light on social commentary, does a fantastic job of showcasing both Blacc's vocal talent and the album's overall production value in one song.
The album ends strong with “Mama Hold My Hand” and “Politician (Reprise),” two immensely different tracks. The former is very stripped down, featuring mainly hymn-inspired piano melodies and Blacc's vocals. As evidenced by the title, it's a story about Blacc's mother, most notably his attitude towards her during both his childhood and adult years. Oddly enough, this is the one track where his signature emotion doesn't always shine through to match the lyrical content. The latter is an upbeat instrumental held together by a blaring horns section and guitar solo. It feels entirely out of place when compared to the rest of the album, but acts as a sort of dessert after the main course the album provided. Short and sweet.
Good Things feels like the album Blacc was always destined to create, containing his voice in a very appropriate sonic vessel without restricting it. It flows beautifully from one track to the next, infusing old-school funk and soul with a modern essence that makes it incredibly unique. Blacc's vocals are, for the most part, on point. They transition from unwavering to emotional, and are always the main focus in every track. The production from song to song remains strong, but many of the tracks tend to blur together on repeated listens. Good Things, unfortunately, happens to be weighed down at times by love song after love song, but at its core is a strong representation of what makes this style of music so endearing after all these years.
"Oddly enough, this is the one track where his signature emotion doesn't always shine through to match the lyrical content."
about "mama hold my hand" ?!!?!?!?
i had to choke back tears the first time i heard the song, and i am an emotionless robot. other than that, solid review. i'd personally rate it in the high 80s though!
Oh don't get me wrong, the lyrics got to me something fierce. I just didn't feel as much emotion in his voice in this song as I did the rest of the album. The disparity between the lyrics and vocals was kind of odd to me.