Son Little

New Magic

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Son Little's self-titled debut album was a fascinating and rewarding studio creation, a visionary set of R&B and blues-flavored music filtered through a hip-hop production sensibility. But then Little (aka Aaron Livingston) went out on the road and had to figure out how to play those songs for an audience in real time with a band. Little has said that experience informed the writing and production of his second long-player, 2017's New Magic, and one can hear the differences from the first spin. While Little -- who produced this album and wrote all but one of the songs -- is still a man who knows his way around a recording studio, the approach and feel of New Magic are significantly more organic, with much more of the material sounding like it was recorded live off the floor instead of being stacked up a piece at a time. Hip-hop is still an influence on New Magic, but it's more clearly audible in the grooves than in Little's use of studio manipulation. Little was a very good singer on his debut, but he's gotten even better since then, and his passionate soul phrasing and blues belting are some of the very best things about this fine record, and his vocals bring out the best in his songwriting. Little gets a great groove going on "Blue Magic (Waikiki)," he makes like an old-school soul man with the ineffably cool "O Me O My," he uses food as a great metaphor for seduction on "Bread & Butter," and he looks deep inside himself on the closer, "Demon to the Dark." New Magic is a different animal than Son Little, but both albums are products of a strikingly gifted artist, and listeners who want to hear a smart and passionate musician take R&B into new, thoughtful places owe it to themselves to give New Magic a careful listen.

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