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Gregory Porter: Take Me to the Alley

Reviewed by Ismo Tenkanen

Rating: 7/ 10

Soul Express CD of the Month - Spring 2016

Blue Note CD, 2016
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1) Holding On
2) Don't Lose Your Steam
3) Take Me To The Alley
4) Day Dream
5) Consequence Of Love
6) In Fashion
7) More Than A Woman
8) In Heaven
9) Insanity
10) Don't Be A Fool
11) Fan The Flames
12) French African Queen

Bonus tracks on the Deluxe version:
13) Holding on (ft. Kem)
14) Insanity (ft. Lalah Hathaway)
15) Don't Lose Your Steam (Fred Falke Remix)

Three years after his previous album Liquid Spirit, Gregory Porter is back with his 4th album, his 2nd for the legendary Blue Note jazz label. My first impression of this album was a slight disappointment, maybe due to extremely high expectations, but especially after buying a Deluxe version of the CD - with three bonus tracks (featuring Kem, Lalah Hathaway duetting with Gregory) and a 5-track bonus DVD, I was convinced enough to pick this as our album of Spring 2016.

The original 12-track US version of this CD left me with a feeling that maybe Gregory is playing a bit too safe and trying to satisfy his constantly growing pop & MOR audience, as his ballads have an easy-on-the-ear, early 70s Bill Withers type of feel. In other words, they have very little to do with jazz, and focus on smooth, radio-friendly melodies and deeply personal, story-telling lyrics. As a true devotee of old soul & funk music, I was also annoyed to the fact that Gregory does not even try to record strong upbeat cuts; there are no grooves, no funky licks, he just decides to stick to his effortless, unhurried approach. Yet again, if you like Gregory's more serene side of music, here you have an albumful of relaxed songs performed by Gregory in his very mellow, warm style.

Take Me to the Alley undoubtedly lacks the jazzy gems of his early albums, like 1960 What?, and even the jazziest cuts on display here, like the single release Don't Lose Your Steam, are built more on the melody than on a groove or jazzy improvisation of the musicians. The last two tracks, Fan the Flames and French African Queen, are the only tracks with a genuine jazz feel, and I certainly would have liked to hear more tracks like these.

Of the numerous ballad tunes on the album, the title tracks is probably the best composition, whereas Lalah Hathaway and Kem make the new versions of the songs Insanity and Holding on very likable for the soul oriented listeners. The latter is actually originally a UK electro dance song by Disclosure (on which Porter was a featured vocalist), which Gregory now turns into a dreamy ballad with a tasty musical backdrop. Gregory has also become a regular visitor on every second soul and jazz album, he has guested previously with Robin McKelle, Dianne Reeves, Nicola Conte, Lizz Wright, amongst others.

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