Having cut his teeth in hip-hop before diving sidelong into R&B on his Stones Throw debut Shine Through, Los Angeles crooner Aloe Blacc balances a reverence for classic, ’70s soul while dressing it up in unique, modern sounds. With production aid from the likes of Madlib, Shine Through at times seemed as much a hip-hop album as R&B, minus the rapping. Yet Aloe, aka Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins, flecked his smooth and buttery jams with Latin and jazz touches, yielding an atypical but nonetheless fascinating sonic experience. Following up that effort four years later, Dawkins maintains his playful and laid-back style on Good Things, yet ties up all of his previous album’s loose ends, instead delivering a much tighter, more neatly constructed album of rich and organic soul.
Moving fluidly between the socially conscious soul of Bill Withers, the joyful croon of Sam Cooke and the silky funk of Curtis Mayfield, Aloe Blacc offers up an album of tunes that could likely pass for a lost 1970s soul classic. That warm, vintage feel is thanks in large part to producers Jeff Dynamite and Leon Michels, who deliver a stunning and dynamic backdrop for Dawkins’ smooth baritone with dense arrangements of live instrumentation, further denoting a stark contrast from the crackly samples of his debut. Every track is layered with delicious, sometimes indulgent details, from the shivering strings and weeping guitars on “Life So Hard,” to the xylophone and backup singers on “Take Me Back,” and the deep wah-wah funk of “Hey Brother.” Most impressive of all is first track and first single “I Need a Dollar,” carried by the momentum of a sharp piano hook and bright touches of horns, and made all the more emotionally gripping by Dawkins’ hard-luck lamentations.
Where Shine Through was an album concerned mostly with matters of the opposite sex, Good Things takes additional cues from Withers and Cooke by addressing political and social concerns. He tackles economic hardships on “I Need a Dollar,” promiscuity on “Hey Brother,” an infectious optimism on “Green Lights” and self-doubt combined with familial bonds on “Mama Hold My Hand.” Which isn’t to say he doesn’t still belt out a stellar love song, as he does on “You Make Me Smile.” But in every song, Dawkins sounds more confident, more assured, and for that matter, comes across with more emotional resonance than before, giving these already spectacular arrangements an added dose of human vulnerability.
Good Things is a celebration of soul music, from its gospel roots to its most head-bobbing funk. Though it may not carry the same kind of experimentation as 2006’s Shine Through, it makes up for it by offering a nearly flawless set of songs that show range and maturity, not to mention some fantastic hooks. When music feels this good, it’s tempting to set it on an endless loop.
Bill Withers – Still Bill
John Legend and the Roots – Wake Up!
Al Green – I’m Still In Love With You
Video: Aloe Blacc “I Need a Dollar”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.