Aloe Blacc’s Good Things is a mature, well-crafted, and distinctive take on the basic blueprint of the neo-soul sound, the quasi-revival movement that embraced classic soul and funk tropes that had been abandoned by much of the R&B establishment. Horns abound throughout the album, and take-‘em-to-church organs (“Green Lights”) and Charles Pitts–style wah-wah guitar (“Hey Bother”) underpin the album’s mid-tempo grooves. But Good Things isn’t a purely retro offering, a la Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. The album is rooted in contemporary production techniques and a post–hip-hop sense of beat-making, yet it sounds like a homegrown revelation when played against the hectic, digitally saturated club tunes of Usher and the like.
Blacc’s stirring take on the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale,” for example, recalls in spirit the great soul renderings of country standards by singers such as Solomon Burke and Arthur Alexander, and it positions Blacc firmly outside of the mainstream in terms of both instrumentation and song selection. The Good Things’s hit and theme to the HBO series How to Make it in America, “I Need a Dollar,” casts a socially conscious eye to life during the great recession, recalling Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street,” Baby Huey’s “Hard Times,” and Curtis Mayfield’s fiery activist tunes of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Though certainly an indelible pop tune, “I Need A Dollar” stands in clear opposition to the seemingly oblivious mainstream R&B and rap acts that beat a dead horse with pronunciations of the supremacy of material excess.
Blacc returns to contemporary hardships again and again throughout Good Things, yet the album isn’t expressly political (see the Bill Withers–esque “You Make Me Smile” for a particularly touching example). It’s just rooted in a reality much more familiar to the average music listener. And that idea, whether retro, neo, or otherwise, feels refreshingly out of step with the music of today.