‘Take Me To The Alley’ by Gregory Porter Album Review: Warm, Effortless Jazz
Jazz singer-songwriter Gregory Porter returns with a stunning third solo album Take Me To The Alley. A follow-up to his Grammy-winning, platinum-selling Liquid Spirit, this record displays Porter’s gospel roots and showcases his vocal mastery. There may be no surprises on Take Me To The Alley, but Porter simply sticks to what he does best – showering the listener with his authentic songwriting and powerful baritone.
‘Take Me To The Alley’ by Gregory Porter Album Review
Opener “Holding On” is a slower, acoustic version of the Disclosure’s worldwide hit from last summer, which featured Porter’s vocals. Here his voice stands out over the piano chords and mellow percussions. The brass instrumental arrangements give the track a relaxed, late night jazz tonality, while Porter’s crooning on the chorus uplifts and eventually resolves in a high note.
“Don’t Lose Your Steam,” which Porter penned himself as a cautionary tale for his young son, is warm and spontaneous, more upbeat and punchy. Here he allows himself to experiment with the rhythm in a way that still feels natural and spontaneous. Following, the title track takes a step back in tempo, which is fitting for the confessional tone of the track. Apparently inspired by his childhood memories of his mother, a minister who moved the family to a tough neighborhood, Porter sings, “Take me to the alley / Take me to the afflicted ones / Take me to the lonely ones that somehow lost their ways.” The gentle piano chords string us along through the melody while it is again Porter’s vocals, at times harmonizing along with Alicia Olatuja, that carry the meaning and expressivity of the track.
Groovy “In Fashion” starts off with jagged arrangements, cleverly constructed piano chords and soft rhythm. Porter unleashes his musical instinct without concerning himself with the mainstream. The singer makes a sentimental statement about the inconstant nature of feelings especially in the modern context of a celebrity fling: “I’m last year’s runway passion / No longer in fashion/ And I find myself obsessed / With how you dress / And whom you’ll see / When you’re without me.” Porter finishes the song in a simple manner with improvisational freestyle singing.
Porter is one of those odd musical phenomena, existing technically just outside what is considered the mainstream but at the same time enjoying a broad appeal. The effortlessness of his music is likely the reason why the jazzman is so well-liked – the natural ease of the arrangements on Take Me to The Alley and the warmth of the singer’s vocals are Porter’s signature feature, making his unique style impossible to resist.
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