Aloe Blacc • Lift Your Spirit • Interscope • US Release Date: March 11, 2014
R&B singer Aloe Blacc is not in his first rodeo; he had an outstanding single out in 2010 entitled “I Need A Dollar” that should have foreshadowed what was to come. Still, things only break for an artist when it’s the right time, and 2013-14 has proven to be the 35-year old singer’s time. Two gargantuan singles have truly given Blacc ‘wings to fly’ on his third album, Lift Your Spirit: “Wake Me Up” (Aviici) and “The Man”.
The momentum that is on his side – specifically crossover success into pop from urban music – carries over into this overall fine ‘introduction’. Sure, the singer, who has been associated with the Stones Throw label, has previously release two albums, but for many, this is their first impression of Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III. That impression is a favorable one ultimately.
“The Man” is nothing short of enthusiastic and proves to be a sensational opening cut. “Girl you can tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man,” Blacc sings passionately on the pre-chorus, before proclaiming “I got all the answers to your questions / I’ll be the teacher you could be the lesson…” on the chorus. The throwback vibe hearkening back to R&B’s prime just makes “The Man” that much greater. Throw in the lifted “Your Song” sample (Elton John) and soulful vocals from Blacc and “Everything is Sound” (Jason Mraz song reference FYI). The Pharrell Williams produced “Love Is The Answer” keeps things moving exceptionally well, again relying on the inspiration of the past. Sure Williams’ typical production cues are in play, but he doesn’t mess with the soulful script. In fact, “Love Is The Answer” sounds quite comparable to Williams’ own retro savvy on his own album G I R L. The chivalrous nature of “Love Is The Answer” is nothing short of admirable (“Just look around the whole wide world / so many beautiful things to see / take my hand and come along spread love with me.”).
“Wake Me Up (Acoustic)” is well placed given the popularity of the original Aviici single from True. Still, the argument against what essentially is a reprisal is that “Wake Me Up” has experienced its peak already, so why feature it once more? There is nothing wrong with the acoustic version – it’s a quality recording – but moving forward beyond the track also wouldn’t have hurt Blacc in the least. “Here Today” may not be among the best, but what is notable about it is that here specifically, Blacc truly channels the sound of Bill Withers. Whether it is intentional influence or not, “Here Today” shows the beauty of Blacc’s pipes. Additionally, much like the incredibly popular “The Man”, “Here Today” can pass off as an R&B or pop single. On “Can You Do This”, the sound is likened to Bruno Mars’s soulful throwback joint “Runaway”. They are clearly two different songs by different artists, but the sound is a modern day capture of retro-soul. Halfway through, things still remain ‘all good’ overall.
“Chasing” sports another funky groove and contrasts “Can You Do This” with a slower tempo. The use of horns adds another dimension, truly accentuating the song. The refrain is a ‘feel good’ one with Blacc singing of “girls chasing the boys” and so on. One specific highlighting moment is when the groove switches briefly to reggae, which is a sound contrast to the rest. “Chasing” isn’t revolutionary (nothing is on this album), but it is definitely one of the singer’s best songs. “The Hand Is Quicker” doesn’t lose a bit of momentum, with a hard, stomping groove and magnificent use of electric guitar, horns, and organ. Retro-soul is written all over this cut, with the backing vocals truly sealing the deal. “You know the hand / is quicker than the eye,” sings Blacc on the refrain, “Sometimes the truth / ain’t no better than a lie.” The sweetest spot of Blacc’s voice – when he ascends into his upper register.
“Ticking Bomb” is a treat; it contrasts its contemporaries on Lift Your Spirit and possesses certain intensity about it. Soulful, clear, and nuanced vocals by Blacc continue to be the story of the LP; he’s a man on fire. What’s equally remarkable is the fact that Blacc never over sings, giving just the right amount to draw the desired effect. “Red Velvet Seal” truly buys into vintage soul with its six-eight groove, a common cue of classic soul. Though the two songs are unrelated by all means, “Red Velvet Seal” hearkens back to Lenny Williams’ “Cause I Love You” given its over sound and feel. “Red Velvet Seal” is a strong penultimate track, even if it just misses the glory and notability of the top echelon. “Owe It All” provides the album’s obligatory spiritual cut, with Blacc thanking God for everything. An appropriate closer, the enjoyable “Owe It All” caps off a soundly conceived R&B album.
Ultimately, Lift Your Spirit does just that – it makes you feel happy. There are no deal breaking moments to be found, with consistency characterizing the album overall. Calling Lift Your Spirit an innovative affair would be an overstatement, but praising it for its solidness wouldn’t be in the least. Vocally, Aloe Blacc is a balanced singer who knows when to pull back and when to flash, which helps to make Lift Your Spirit so appealing throughout. It is the sensible R&B album that is ‘pop’ enough to crossover – just look at “The Man” for proof of that.
“The Man”; “Love Is The Answer”; “Chasing”; “Ticking Bomb”