With a name like Aloe, he’s got to be smooth. Blacc, né Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III, began as a more typical roster member of the throwback hip-hop label Stones Throw. Shine Through, his 2006 solo debut, saw the California native rolling up and croon-rhyming over intricate, weird beats. Now the 31-year-old, formerly half of backpacking rap duo Emanon, is in full-on soul-soldier mode.
A sublime soundtrack for an economy in the ditch, Good Things returns to the bittersweet, socially conscious street sound of the ’70s—when guys like Marvin Gaye and Angelo Bond stalked their album covers in trench coats and sang “What’s Going On” and “Reach for the Moon (Poor People).” But the honey-coated pain in Blacc’s voice most recalls Bill Withers, as he silkily slides into higher registers to sing of hungry children and trying to pay his bills. Even women bring him down, on the moody funk of “Loving You Is Killing Me” and a chilling, cinematic take on the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.”
But this is no nostalgia re-creation riddled with vinyl pops and raunchy horns. Production team Truth & Soul modernizes the wah-wahs, church organs and rubbery bass with the mind of a sampler, punctuating a guitar riff with a computer blip or having a cheap keyboard peck at the crisp breaks of “Green Lights.”
Rain falls. Kids wield guns. Blacc begs for a dollar. But as the title, Good Things, suggests, Aloe Blacc is an optimistic gentleman, his voice a salve.
Aloe Blacc hits Schubas Friday 12.