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When a throwback soul singer seamlessly transitions from Sly and the Family Stone into Green Day's Dookie and makes the segue seem only natural, you know you have something special on your hands. With similar executions of this type of musical alchemy, singer Aloe Blacc secured for himself a position in the pantheon of tribute retro-soul performers that have been burgeoning since the breakthroughs of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and Amy Winehouse.

Aloe Blacc arrived on the scene in 2006 as a rapper with his first album Shine Through, a neo-soul hip-hop oriented amalgam, but his departure from this stance into savvy soul singer on his most recent album Good Things has evaded the soporific sophomore slump that bands often fall prey to. Like his precursors Marvin Gaye and Al Green, both of whom were given verbal nods at the packed Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco last Wednesday, Aloe operates with the belief that music acts as a forceful device to deliver sociopolitical change. Arguably the album's best track, "I Need A Dollar," a dangerously catchy call-and-response offshoot of work songs of early African-Americans that also features as the theme song for HBO's "How To Make It In America," tracks the economic recession on a highly personal level. Lines such as "I need a dollar dollar /Dollar is what I need / Hey hey / Bad times are comin' and I reap what I don't sow" and "I had a job but the boss man let me go" directly refer to his layoff from a consulting firm in 2003. But as Aloe will often emphasize lyrically and emotionally, good things can arise from the direst of situations - case in point, this album.

So why hasn't Aloe been propelled to stardom on a larger scale? The album has up to four potential "hit" songs, while his backup band, the Grand Scheme, are soul aficionados that play with a professional, driving funk. One could blame it on his small independent label ties, but such ties never hindered artists like hip-hop producer Madlib. And it's certainly not for want of talent, nor looks for that matter (just ask the group of blushing girls in front of me).

There are even bands with much larger fan bases who find themselves entangled in a similar situation - the polished albums do not correspond with the myth-making status of their live shows. Midway through Aloe's set, the slick-footed frontman requested the crowd divide itself in half to make way for a "Soul Train" reenactment. Yes, Aloe actually jumped off stage to dance with audience members and urged others to follow suit. He continually reminded us that tonight we were members of "The Church of Love and Happiness" and all forms of music were indiscriminately welcomed. Songs such as the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale" and the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'" were tastefully framed within a soul context, emphasizing a shared, overlapping groove, but furthermore showcasing the velvety voice of a budding talent, an accomplished showman. The decision to play numerous cover songs did not overshadow his original work, as one might normally surmise, but further proved his flexibility and dynamic range as an up-and-coming performer. We witnessed the different moods and colors of Aloe - warm, sweet blue lilts, silky-smooth porcelain wisps, crimson-red flare and finesse - and although unsuspecting, we were ready to immerse ourselves in it. The question is, hey hey, are you?


Sing along to the Velvet Underground with Justin at [email protected]



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