Aloe Blacc in San Diego. Photo by Derek Beres
In 2005 I was turned onto Aloe Blacc via his song, ‘Bailar—Scene 1.’ It was a hot track, with its funked out trumpet and guitar meshing with his whispery, matter-of-fact swagger, bubbling into a sung-rapped Spanglish flow. While on the Musica Fresca tour working for Yahoo Telemundo, I got to witness Aloe perform two songs in a ‘Battle of the Bands’ slot before the MainStage acts hit in San Diego. The audience was small, as it was throughout the entire failed tour, but watching Aloe perform, I knew he had legs. I’m glad he didn’t prove me wrong.
The youthful exuberance he exhibited on that night nine years ago has slowly emerged as a confident swagger. You can witness the developing cool in his soulful, patient 2010 cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean.’
By the time he’s filmed for the exceptional web series The Take-Away Show, he’s in full control of his creative faculties. Cutting ‘You Make Me Smile’ in the Parisian underground and a rainy day Bill Withers song, you see a man loving what he does.
And then he throws down on his hit, ‘I Need A Dollar,’ in the middle of a crowded cafe, a cappella save hand claps and table smacks.
While the funky ‘Love is the Answer’ and acoustic ‘Wake Me Up’ have already been released on Aloe’s latest EP, Wake Me Up, it’s ‘Ticking Bomb’ that solidifies his place in the great pantheon of R&B singers. He’s always touched upon social issues in a creative musical landscape, but this is his ‘Inner City Blues’ protest call. Not that too much has changed in the four decades since Marvin crooned that unforgettable song. As Aloe points out, we’re grappling with a downward spiral and nothing indicates that we’re going to emerge unscathed. And yet hope remains in music, that enduring bastion standing tall when things seem glum. Sadness has a beautiful soundtrack. It’s the rare artist that captures it this eloquently, but given the trajectory of his career, Aloe has never produced anything one would call ‘common.’