Saturday, January 11, 2014

Week 1

Lift Your Spirit by Aloe Blacc

If you want to start your new year off with a fresh dose of 'get-up-and-get-at-em,' then look no further.

This disc from SoCal's Aloe Blacc was released late last year outside of the US, after the chart-topping success of his co-written single "Wake Me Up" (which is often contributed solely to Sweden's DJ Avicii). If you've ever heard anything else Aloe has done, then you're already privy to his throwback soul sound. Think Marvin Gaye meets John Legend. Rarely does he dazzle with Gospel-inspired runs or Timberlake-esque falsetto, but his voice just has something that draws you in. It's very organic and honest. 

It begins with a less electronic version of Wake Me Up. We get the acoustic guitar that the radio has made us love, but the tempo is a touch slower and the instrumentation is much more intimate. I totally dig it. The honest lyrics regarding a carefree yet hopeful look forward reminds the listener to relax and to live in the moment. Simple and humble.

The next track "The Man," has been featured on a commercial for Dre's Beats Headphones lately (blech), so you may have heard this one before too. It's a song that exudes self-confidence, honesty, and responsibility. Once again, an uplifting track that reels you in with its background choirs and fresh beat. Another aspect of this song I like is that it's a direct contrast to the one preceding it. Even though both contribute to a 'lifting of spirit,' they approach opposite sides of the coin - something that was obviously premeditated, and appreciated.

The third track "Soldier in the City" reminds me of Stevie's "Livin' in the City" in content, and Marvin Gaye in sound. Not a huge fan of this track's overall sound, but it's not of any less quality.

Next we get "Love is the Answer." Immediately I'm reminded of Marvin. We get a funky bass line, plenty of horn hits, and lots of layered in vocals. The overall song is a little too funky for my taste but it's still well-done and will make you bob your head. In staying with the album title, this track is a call to show more love in the world. How can you not be down with that?

The next track "Here Today" is one of my favorites. If "Wake Me Up" was the first checkpoint for this album, this is the second. It's an inspirational song about living in the moment and making the best out of your opportunities. Just like most of the songs on this disc, this one is simple in both texture and lyrics. No verses ripe with metaphors or poetry here. Just Aloe telling it like it is. 

With the sixth and eighth tracks, we get the '90s R&B side to Aloe's sound. These are the two are are aimed at that special someone. Track six, "Wanna Be With You" is more upbeat and sure to be covered all over YouTube when it gets some play time in the US. It just feels good and is fun with which to sing along. Track eight, Red Velvet seat is the sexy one. It's got the same sparse instrumentation with sexy bass and half time groove that we got with Brian McKnight's "Back at One" back in '99.

The title track from Blacc's album is definitely the third checkpoint. Funky beat, funky guitar, and funky sangin'. The gospel backgrounds make this one easy to listen to. It's a song that reminds us to be thankful for those in our lives who've been there for us and to forget (or forgive) those that haven't.

The ninth track "Can You Do This" has the same neo-surfer rock sound that we've heard on the radio lately thanks to Cee-Lo and Bruno Mars. Upbeat, simple, and short. Definitely more of a dance number, but what soul album is complete without one?

The penultimate song (yeah I said it) is the only one that I don't really get. "Ticking Bomb" is foreboding, introspective, and just about as contrary to lifting your spirit as you can get. You can probably guess what the title means - the world is ripe for a gruesome end and it's not far off. I won't pretend to be a songwriter, but this one must have been included for a reason. Maybe Aloe just wants us to remember that even though we need to live in the moment, we can't do so irresponsibly. You do only live once, and even though it's best to live with a rather optimistic attitude, we still need to be aware that our time is limited.

The last song is a great way to come back from "Ticking Bomb". "Eyes of a Child" opens with, 'let your spirit fly high, let your spirit be free' is a direct contrast to the somber picture painted only moments earlier. It's got the influences of Marvin and Otis throughout. Very laid back with some tasty trumpet and strings lines. Absolutely enveloping. This one stays true to the album's theme and reminds the listener to once again, appreciate what life has to offer.

Overall this is a great album from an artist who's just getting his foot in the door. I can listen to it top to bottom without feeling the need to skip any tracks (very rare for me). If you're a fan of classic soul - Marvin, Otis, Aretha, Sam - then this album will have plenty to offer you. It's blend of well-produced tracks that strike a fine balance between new age studio polish and old-school charm pair perfectly with Blacc's new school look with throwback songwriting and honest vocal stylings. Look to pick this one up when it hits stores in the U.S.

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