Is it too soon to declare Good Things a soul classic? After all, Stones
Throw only released it five months ago. Classics usually take
a few years to germinate, but I'm gonna go ahead and call it.
Decades from now, will people speak about his LP with the same
degree of esteem we now accord Shuggie Otis's Inspiration Infor-
mation? I hope so, because it shares the same eclectic charm.
There are those who believe that qualifiers diminish the object in
question, and they have a point. If I describe Good Things as
neo-soul, like many have, I'm suggesting that it would be folly to
compare Blacc to, say, Stevie Wonder. Better to compare him to
Rafael Saadiq and label mate Mayer Hawthorne. Those compari-
sons certainly make sense, but I'd rather not go there either, be-
cause it also diminishes their work, just as neo-noir implies that
Roman Polanski's Chinatown doesn't bear comparison to the
noirs of the WWII-era, even though it holds up just as well.
Granted, Blacc wouldn't exist without the soul practitioners who
came before, but they didn't emerge from a puff of smoke either
(no, not even Marvin Gaye). If the prefix must persist, I would
reserve it for artists who understand the parameters of a genre,
but haven't yet found--or don't possess--the means to transcend
them. If you think you've heard it before, it's because you have.
On the contrary, Good Things feels both fresh and familiar.
It began with the first single, "I Need a Dollar," which didn't sound
like anything else released in 2010 (and became the theme to How
to Make It in America). That was already a promising sign, but I
doubted that a full-length could measure up. It does. And doesn't.
As it turns out, Blacc doesn't make the same song over and over
(and I'll never understand why anyone would find that a worthy
goal). On the contrary, he offers 13 discreet selections. Each is u-
nique in its own way, but you can tell Blacc was behind each one.
Furthermore, Good Things doesn't sound like an exercise in
style, even though Blacc started out as an MC. If you listen close-
ly, his hip-hop background becomes apparent, but you have to
make an effort. I have no idea whether this is a permanent shift or
a temporary detour, but his lyrics and delivery indicate that he
means what he says. Were he merely trying to prove that he
could pass for a soul man, his words wouldn't scan as well.
ode to a
Withers' "Grandmas Hands," but there's no doubting his sincerity.
In "I Need a Dollar," Blacc sings, "If I share my story, will you share
your dollar with me?" Taken literally, it describes our exchange: I
heard a song--a story--and I wanted more, so I bought his album,
i.e. I shared my dollars with him. In return, I received 13 stories.
Whether each one emerges directly from his own life experiences,
I couldn't say, but it doesn't matter, because they don't come ac-
ross as mere fabrications. Put them all together with his earthy
voice and those beautifully understated funk melodies, and Al-
oe Blacc has crafted a soul classic. No qualifiers necessary.
Endnote: Images from Hypetrack and Analog Giant.