The most frustrating thing about Aloe Blacc's debut solo album, Shine Through, is that it starts out with such amazing potential. Not a typical complaint, it's true, but the opener, "Whole World," with trip-hoppish beat blended with Blacc's smooth voice and the necessary neo-soul references to musical heroes (Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald), is quite affecting, and it's followed by an even better track, an adaptation of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" (titled "Long Time Coming" here) that sounds absolutely nothing like the original. Produced by Oh No, the song's a haunting mix of layered harmonies, drums, and hollow chimes, taking a classic and giving it a real modern and darker sensibility without losing any of the power found in Cooke's version. That's why it's so disappointing when Blacc slips into more generic sounding R&B. He's a talented musician, that much is clear -- he handles almost all of the production (labelmate Madlib takes the reigns on "One Inna,") the instrumentation, and the vocals himself -- and he proves this right away, and nothing on Shine Through is bad; it's just not as good as it initially seemed it was going to be. But should an artist be faulted for setting expectations that might never be reached, by teasing listeners with brilliance and then backing down? It's hard to say. Blacc still sounds great, there are a lot of good songs on Shine Through ("Busking" is another that comes to mind), and the production is superb and never predictable. He wears his Panamanian heritage proudly, and many of the tracks take a strong, if not explicit, Latin flavor (the two bonus tracks included are Palenque's "Severa" and an excellent Spanish-language cover of John Legend's "Ordinary People"). But he also shows himself to be human, especially lyrically, where he falls short more often than in other categories and doesn't end up creating an album made up of 16 excellent songs. Indubitably this is putting a lot of pressure upon the young artist, but only because he's hinted that he can handle it, that he can make something that really is that good. And he still might. Shine Through is only his first solo album, and so hopefully, by the time the next one comes out, he will have found a way to make it truly flawless.
AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown