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CD review: Gregory Porter – Be Good

Gregory Porter – Be Good
(Motéma Music 233488. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Since rocketing to stardom with his debut album Water in 2010, LA-born singer Gregory Porter has been Grammy-nominated, reached number one on both iTunes and Amazon in the UK, and won Jazzwise‘s album of the year accolade for his ‘outstanding original songs, erudite lyrics and social comment, top-drawer musicianship and improvisation, and a voice to die for’.

This, his follow-up recording, will doubtless consolidate this already enviable reputation, for all the reasons cited in the quoted review: Porter does indeed have a ‘voice to die for’, a slightly jazzier version of the insinuatingly honeyed but (where necessary) attractively grainily soulful tones of Bill Withers delivered with the (deceptive) ease of a crooner such as Peter Cincotti. He also writes consistently intelligent lyrics, their subjects ranging from the nature/nurture debate (‘Painted on Canvas’, possibly the first jazz song ever to include the word ‘gesso’) and the African-American cultural heritage (‘On My Way to Harlem’, which namechecks Marvin Gaye and poet Langston Hughes as well as Duke Ellington) to intriguingly unclichéd love songs (‘Be Good (Lion’s Song)’, ‘When Did You Learn?’, ‘Our Love’) and the odd hymn to family solidarity (‘Mother’s Song’).

His jazz credentials are underlined not only by the slickness and improvisational pep of a smart backing band (at its core pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Aaron James and drummer Emanuel Harrold), but also by the aplomb with which Porter handles the closing classics from the heart of the canon: ‘Work Song’ and (unaccompanied) ‘God Bless the Child’. Emulating the success of smash-hit debuts is a tricky business, but Porter has certainly done it with Be Good.

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