Aloe Blacc – You Make Me Smile
The best music is the music that comes from the heart. For soul crooner du jour Aloe Blacc, the journey to find himself has been a fifteen year quest that clearly has led to the robust sound and direct frankness of his sophomore recording for Stones Throw Records, Good Things. In aligning himself with classic soul preservation society Stones Throw Records, he is provided a backdrop borne of classic soul searching albums Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On, Marvin Gaye’s I Want You and Gil Scott-Heron’s Pieces of a Man to preach on life, love, pain and a hope for redemption. As a clarion call in trying times, Blacc truly succeeds in crafting a record that treads both pop and underground. In its precision, it lays out the sermon of steadfast hope we all needed to hear, that “good things” come to those who wait.
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This is easily the most honest record of the year. Blacc as an R & B artist brings years as an emcee as half of underground duo Emanon to his songwriting as in being an underground emcee, a premium being placed on clever and direct wordplay outweighs mainstream gimmickry. The plain talking anthem of 2010, “I Need a Dollar” is clearly dominant. Landing as the theme song for HBO’s hipster/blipster/hustler series How to Make it In America, and using that as a springboard to instant fame for Blacc, it provides a clearer picture of the issues facing the United States than any commentary, evening news piece or State of the Union Address:
Well I don’t know if I’m walking on solid ground / Cause everything around me is falling down
And all I want – is for someone – to help meee
I had a job but the boss man let me go / He said “I’m sorry but I won’t be needing your help no more”
I said “Please mister boss man I need this job more than you know” / But he gave me my last paycheck and he sent me on out the door
From this launching point, the album delves deep into the souls of a struggling society. “Green Lights,” widely considered the album’s best overall single, rides a Hammond organ and stellar songwriting to success, the tale of Blacc’s uncertain future. As a singer, he’s the youngest of the analog soul reclaimers, and in that has a voice as a R & B artist that he’s growing into, that melded with his lyrical content portends him as eventually falling into the realm of being a Bobby Womack, as in having a blue collar vibe mixed with note perfect execution makes his odes to the everyman exceedingly potent.
The backing of Brooklyn’s Truth and Soul Collective fills the same role here for Blacc as the Daptones do for Sharon Jones, infusing the release with a knowing wink to the legendary sounds of old. Unlike the Daptones whose backing is derivative yet reminiscent, there are direct correlations to numerous classic tracks here, as the Truth and Soul Collective do things with a clear homage to the concept of hip hop sampling like lifting Pretty Purdie’s entire drumline from Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” to infuse Blacc’s superior craftsmanship with the traditional hip hop sensibilities that marked his early career.
In final, this is a clear contender for album of the year. Well crafted, truthful and unflinching in facing the issues blighting life and humanity, in its success Good Things provides the solutions to the issues facing the lives of Americans, and in succeeding at that high minded goal, supercedes being just music, and becomes a necessary message of hope and survival.