An out-of-fashion album, but that is entirely the appeal. The rise of Californian jazz vocalist Gregory Porter over the past half a decade has been out of sync with the musical scene to say the least, however that is the exact secret to his success. With a seemingly ever present beaming smile, his self-labelled “jazz-hat” and the hefty-build of a once-emerging American football pro; Porter cuts a distinctive figure. His style, charming demeanour and song writing ability, not to mention a voice like velvet, have seen him appeal to a wide audience and receive huge critical acclaim in the process.
Take Me to the Alley is Gregory Porter’s fourth studio album, and it certainly has a hard act to follow. Liquid Spirit, an album that launched Porter into the spotlight, received wide acclaim and the 2014 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. From the first listen I was as gripped as when I first listened to Liquid Spirit. The opening track ‘Holding On’ is the bare bones, chilled out original of the song that saw Porter and music duo Disclosure join forces at the start of 2015. From the off, this track has the distinct Gregory Porter feel. The powerful, relaxing vocals coupled to the background of a sombre piano, double bass and soothing drum track introduce the album well. Leading into my personal favourite of the album ‘Don’t Lose Your Steam’, a noticeably upbeat soul track in which Porter exhibits his wide ranging vocal style with a passionate display.
We are then brought down again by the low-key vocals of the cover track ‘Take Me To The Alley’, the lyrics in particular tell a story he tells with his family in mind, a topic that Porter has always drawn inspiration from. ‘Day Dream’ continues the relaxed feel, the song writing ability is noticeably impressive in conjuring up relaxing imagery that follows Porter’s philosophy of singing “with understanding”; a lesson from his late mother of whom he owes a lot of his song writing to.
relaxing imagery follows Porter’s philosophy of singing “with understanding”
‘Consequence of Love’ is an emotive tale of romance, and the consequences that follow from Porter’s point of view, perfectly encapsulated by music that tells the tale just as well as the lyrics. ‘In Fashion’, a track that packs a punch, is another story of love, however with the bitter taste of separation, along with the feelings and memories that follow. ‘More Than a Woman’ is a reflective ballad, in which Porter describes the love of a woman who changed his life and made his “blind eyes see”, a possible homage to his late mother and how she inspired him to take his music professionally. ‘In Heaven’ describes the words of a loved one now in heaven, and the advice to wait for them there whilst not worrying about them on earth, a poignant belief for Porter.
‘Insanity’ is introduced with the sharp tones of a soprano saxophone, and coupled with ‘Don’t Be A Fool’ are a chilled reminder of keeping your head strong when in love with someone. The album is concluded brilliantly with the upbeat rhythms of ‘Fan The Flames’ and ‘French African Queen’, which end the album with the high tempo jazz that fits Porter’s style so well, and further showcases his musical versatility. It has been nearly three years since the release of Grammy award winning Liquid Spirit, and although Take Me To The Alley lacks the playfulness of its predecessor, Gregory Porter still impresses with his style that will undoubtedly bring him further critical success.