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Saturday, October 16, 2021

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Son Little's gritty takes on vintage R&B run deep

Son Little’s gritty takes on vintage R&B run deep

The Californian dips into gospel, rock, and blues for a fresh sound that will surely shake a hip or two.

Itʻs been three years since Son Little, the musical nom de plume of LA’s Aaron Earl Livingston, earned a Grammy Award for steering the production work on Mavis Staplesʻ lauded “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” but one could argue the real magic is just getting up to speed. On his most recent “invisible EP“, the five-song appetizer sees Livingston, a preacher’s son, unfurl his stylized penchant for gritty rock and r&b from a non-digital recording era.

This updated musical conversation between Bobby Womack and Keith Richards, where raspy vocals and bluesy warped strumming meet, is the sound Little will be procuring when he opens his North American tour at Swedish American Hall Mon/11.  “Hey Rose/Your soul is a picture/But your body Is a frame’ is a half-stanza, where antiquated genres keep borrowing from one another. Eventually swirling into Son Little’s ‘hey rose’. The riffy guitar licks, dock just north of Cody Chestnutt “The Seed 2.0” territory. Even the first seconds of the song, a couple of bass notes away from the intro to Curtis Mayfield’s’ “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go”, rewind time and esthetics.

“about her. Again,” the following song on the EP, another knockabout bluesy trek, uses a vintage studio production stratagem to imply lyrical phrasing from the past. A quaint swirling of the drum tracks, used with sterling dreamlike perfection, a recording trick made famous by Jimi Hendrix circa Axis: Bold As Love, then popularized by Lenny Kravitz during his mid-’90s run, designates a certain analog sensibility. But it’s the nasally sung chorus “Itʻs something about her” that makes you trip. Didnʻt Mick Jagger sing the same, or similar, depending on your mileage, “What’s different about her I don’t really know” on the iconic hit “Heart of Stone”?

No matter the influence Littleʻs versatility and drive remain unslippery. After he first came to international prominence with his self-titled début released in 2015, he collaborated with The Roots and RJD2 and made a name for himself in Philadelphia. While creating aloha, his anticipated full-length release slated for January 2020, Little began writing and assembling album demos in Petaluma. However, after his hard drive fried and he lost nearly a dozen detailed demos, he was forced to begin with a blank slate, leading him to write aloha in only eight days at a tiny house and its adjacent barn. While Little plays nearly every instrument on the album himself, it was recorded in Paris at Studios Ferber by producer Renaud Letang, known for his influence on Feist and Manu Chao.

So what the verdict?

Through sight and sound ‘hey rose’ is pulling a shell game on us. Guitar riffage, coming and going, stay tranquil but threaten to get real loud in a hurry at any second. Little keeps his vocal raspiness near, with hum-sung segments that vary between church and a jukebox. While the video, animated by 60’s betty-boop dancers, filmed with soupy dreamlike veneer tricking us into believing, all of this, could have happened last week on a backlot?  Or in a more “urban” version of “Twin Peaks” from the late ’80s. Either way, Son Little has you.

SON LITTLE
Mon/11, 7pm, $20
Swedish American Music Hall, SF.
Tickets and more info here.

John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.
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