• 27Sep

    Aloe Blacc, Good Things Album Review

    It’s no secret that we’re living in times of turbulence. These are very confusing, frustrating and scary days for many people. Back in the day when we faced such obstacles, the thoughts and feelings of the people were reflected through the music of the day. Upon listening to the second offering by Aloe Blacc, Good Things, one gets the feeling that the trend continues with this product of Southern California, Panamanian origin.

    There’s a lot to be said about Aloe Blacc. His voice is reminiscent of Bill Withers in his heyday. And that’s reflected in the tone and subject matter of Good Things, which takes you on a short-but-sweet 47-minute trip through songs built around pain, struggle, longing, desperation and lost love. The topics on GT will give you the impression that Aloe is reminding us of mid to late-60s, early 70s classics that reflected just how much the world was changing at that time, and how many folks were just struggling to keep up (think: “Living for the City”, “Little Child Runnin’ Wild”, “Ball of Confusion”).

    The running themes of the album are relationships and social injustice, and Aloe carries them well. On the beginner “I Need a Dollar” (the joint that opens the HBO series How to Make it in America), Aloe desperately wails “I don’t know if I’m walking on solid ground/cus’ everything around me is crumbling down” to the tune of a frantic piano and thumping baseline that lets you know trouble is on the way if he doesn’t make pay by rent day. The singer should definitely be commended for opening the album not only with what’s probably his most popular song, but one that carries a universal theme to which all people can relate.

    “Green Lights”, the Al Green-esque tale of keeping one’s head up despite life’s circumstances (and considered by more than a few to be the albums’ best track) immediately follows. It’s a joint that proves Aloe Blacc is no stranger to doo-woppin’ and show-stoppin’ (you can tell by those high notes he hits fairly effortlessly at the end.)

    Good Things really begins to hit its stride with “Hey Brother”, a cautionary tale of keeping a close eye on a woman that’s up to no damn good. Aloe’s silky-smooth voice is paired with a funk-laden backdrop full of meaty guitar licks that immediately get heads nodding. For the next few joints (“Miss Fortune”, “Life So Hard”, “Take Me Back”), Aloe seems like he can do no wrong, which is also a testament to his past life as a rapper back in California. Case in point, the beginning lines of “Take Me Back”: “Never thought that you’d ever get caught with your hand up in the cookie jar/Playin’ Spades with the Devil, now boy whatcha have to go and do that for?”

    Aloe Blacc’s voice gives the impression of a man that’s tired and knows very well he may already be defeated, but is still scrapping and struggling against all odds as if he has the most slender of chances of surviving the times. Looking to speak to the voice of the desperate and the downtrodden, as well as the confused and the lovelorn — he gives a good history lesson to anyone that’s listening not to forget that there are still those in the world that aren’t sitting high on the hog through his personal inner-reflection.

    But this collection isn’t without it’s drawbacks. Though Aloe has a smoothed-out, distinctive voice, at times you wish it was just a bit stronger and had a little more personality to it to really cut to the core of the topics and moods of his music and words. Plus, there’s at least one offering that probably should have been left on the cutting room floor; “Femme Fatale”, which comes off pretty flat and, in terms of topic, may be compared to a far superior offering such as, say, Rapahel Saddiq’s “100 Yard Dash” (“Femme…” really doesn’t hold a candle to the latter). The first half of the album is much stronger than the second, though songs like “If I”, the mini-epic “Mama Hold My Hand”, the Sly Stone-like “You Make Me Smile” and the title track all make a case for the album’s strongest tracks. And with a collection like this one, you’d expect there to be a closing track that would really sum up the whole project and make a distinctive point. Instead, you get “Politician (Reprise)”, an instrumental track that, while featuring some pretty sick guitar work and epic horns, still leaves a lot to be desired. Disappointing? Just a tad.

    Overall, Aloe Blacc does a descent job of taking us back to what is considered by many to be a simpler time, but also a time where things were getting more and more complicated for pretty much everyone. Between war, protests, racism, civil rights and the like, life back then was probably a confusing place, much like it is now for many people. Especially with songs such as “Life So Hard” and “I Need a Dollar”, Aloe captures that feeling and runs with it.

    On NPRs “First Listen”, Aloe is credited with being an artist on the front lines of bringing back the soul music of yesterday and Good Things is referred to as “a laid-back collection of vintage sounds and modern emotions that’s sure to rank among the best albums of 2010.” But more than that, Aloe Blacc has brought us an offering that can be considered, not just a throwback to soul music’s prime, but an album that pays homage, does its best to bridge the generation gap, and reminds us that no matter the times, everyone has to face struggle and must do his/her best to conquer it. And that’s timeless.

    RATING: 3 OUT OF 5

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