Friday, September 22, 2006

Stone Throwing In Kabul...

...well rather Stones Throw in Kabul. I know it’s probably inappropriate these days to make jokes about that subject (given the return of the Ministry of Vice & Virtue, the resurgence of the Taliban, and Ramadan being right around the corner). Further, I realize it is inappropriate to imply or infer that the above title and tail is a joke, given its complete lack of anything approaching humor. And finally, I realize as this is a music post, and given such posts’ lack of audience, this lead was a complete prophylactic to the text below. But I’ll move on.

See, just yesterday I downloaded “Shine Through”, Aloe Blacc’s new solo album on Stones Throw Records (home of Madlib and all his ‘a.k.a.s’). And I’m a giddy little 12 year-old girl again, making bad and awkward “jokes”. Yes, again, and as always.

Where to start? Where to end? Well in a recent email to a friend, I conceded that though the whole album isn’t brilliant, it surely shows that Aloe Blacc is—even if he produces no other music in his life. Truth be told, I still think the album is brilliant, in scope, concept, and nearly in execution. P-fork did a recent review of one of his singles (though the album was apparently dropped in July), a Madlib produced track, which meant I was buying it regardless. (Sidenote: and reminded me to check if any new Madvillain had been released (which it has), I'm reminding you here.) The spectacular track is “One Inna” and hooked me immediately.

Again, Madlib creates a perfect vehicle for the artist he’s working with, blending and adapting a beat drenched w/ telltale Madlib signatures to the artist. The track turns out to be a nearly 4 minute version of Madlib’s catchy-hook/repetitive/chilled beats, which generally work best as shorter beats (i.e. ‘Accordian’, ‘Green Power’, etc.). Yet the beat moves a lot over the 4 minutes and when the melody comes on stronger towards the end, the song takes off, gently and without swelling or becoming overwhelming.

Thealbum is a brilliant showcase and exploration of all of Blacc’s influences, which he does both explicitly and creatively. This concept/premise is made clear on the first track, “Whole World.” He name checks Simone, Jobim, Cooke, Gaye, Davis, Fitzgerald, and Coltrane, through an intoned delivery of a nearly chant like lyric “And the whole world reminds me of...” He produced the beats on all but two of the 16 tracks. And the two tracks, one of which is Madlib’s, don’t really stick out. That says enough, I think.

There are at least two covers, one of which is "Gente Ordinaria", sung in Spanish (he bounces seamlessly between Spanish and English throughout the album), covering John Legend’s “Ordinary People.” I like Blacc’s version better. There is another cover--Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” done incredibly well (multi-part harmony gospel like refrain) and titled “Long Time Coming”. The title track, “Shine Through” is what’s best described as a ‘tribute’ to Marley’s “Chances Are”. The guitar line immediately sounded familiar, but it was made clear when I did the headphone listen and heard a faint voice in the studio singing “chances are.” The track is a rough/live studio cut, which much of the whole album sounds like, except for the constant “digital soul” flourishes found on many tracks (not far from Jamie Lidell, but so much more on the hip-hop beats).

The album is drenched in Blacc's latin background (he's Panamanian-American according to the bios) with the percussion, the horn lines and the piano. There is salsa, bossa nova, and dub/dancehall and calypso infused throughout, and on "Genta Ordinaria" he does a call out to people of several (all??) Latino countries.

His voice isn’t the smoothest, especially at the upper range, but his sincerity and minimalism in delivery make up for it. And his flow on the rapped lyrics more than compensates.

And I’ll try to keep this site from having full on “reviews” like the above, once I get through this awkward giggling pubescence.

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