Aloe Blacc

Lift Your Spirit

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Like fellow retro-minded rapper-turned-singer Mayer Hawthorne, Aloe Blacc moved from the revered independent Stones Throw to a major label, but he did so after one of his singles -- 2010's "I Need a Dollar" -- went Top Ten in ten territories. Between the song's unlikely rise and an Interscope contract, Aloe co-wrote and fronted Avicii's peculiar folk-EDM hybrid "Wake Me Up," an even bigger hit. Thankfully, Lift Your Spirit doesn't attempt to capitalize on the success of the Avicii collaboration, unless the zero-percent EDM version of "Wake Me Up," placed third on the U.S. album, is factored. Just as Hawthorne's major-label debut presented his throwback sound with sanded surfaces, this set does have some contemporary sheen. Compared to Good Things, it sounds like its making was much more considered and laborious. That goes more for the material and productions than for Aloe's everyman voice, still redolent of a young and optimistic Bill Withers with an old soul. It remains as easy on the ears as a worn pair of slippers on the feet. Aloe co-produced all but three of the songs, with veteran DJ Khalil involved with all but two of them. Several cuts -- dance party numbers "Can You Do This" and "Chasing," the hat-on-heart ballad "Red Velvet Seat," and the exultant, Elton John-referencing "The Man," boosted by a gospel choir -- are spiffier spins on Aloe's earlier soul stylings. More surprising, "Here Today" trails "Wake Me Up" with more folky platitudes, this time with a stadium "all together now" chorus, while "The Hand Is Quicker" has a blues edge. One cut made with Pharrell Williams, "Love Is the Answer," takes no time to slip into an easy disco-funk groove and fits into the album with its sunny outlook and elegant horns and strings. The lone song with a sentiment that can't be summarized by the album's title, "Ticking Bomb" ("The whole world's sitting on a ticking bomb, so keep your calm and carry on"), doesn't seem right within the sequence but is a career highlight. The album's content is otherwise reflected in the title. It could use more of that grit heard in the earlier releases.

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