Review: Son Little reduces, enhances influences on 'aloha'

Son Little, “aloha” (ANTI-)

Son Little lost them all. He had almost a dozen demos for a new album but he failed to backup the files and the tunes were gone forever when his hard drive suffered a catastrophic failure.

Bewildered but unbroken, he wrote another batch in eight days. Despite the setback or maybe because of it, “aloha,” Little's third album, finds him in a more basic setting, with mostly simpler arrangements than on his earlier releases.

Still, Little's excellent vocals and evocative songwriting carry the day, with a clear assist from Renaud Letang, the first time Little has worked with an outside producer. Letang's filters mesh expertly with Little's talents.

Little, born Aaron Earl Livingston and with a career stretching back several years before his 2015 solo debut, made a trademark out of updating traditional R&B, blues and soul sounds with electronic beats and hip-hop sensibilities, with the latter complementing but not upstaging the former. And here, too, he plays nearly every instrument.

Opener “hey rose” — there are no capital letters in the song titles — is passionate and daring, with Little turning the volume of his voice up and down as needed. The rhythm is dance-ready but not furious, sometimes barely more than handclaps and a grumbling bass line, suggestive instead of overbearing.

“about her. again.” could be Jimi Hendrix, singing but not playing, covering the Impressions. The song has a very ‘60s-like refrain and more of the quiet/not-so-quiet dynamics. “mahalia” includes a cutting guitar tone and seems preoccupied with missed opportunities — “This life's full of promises we'd keep but we never make” — a disclaimer for whatever will end up ruining the relationship.

Other highlights include the reflective “suffer,” with some very cool synth sounds, the percussion-driven “3rd eye weeping” and the smooth, layered simplicity of closer “after all (i must be wrong)."

With the merits of “aloha” providing ample comforts, it makes no sense to miss those lost tracks.

Pablo Gorondi, The Associated Press