Music Review: 'Take Me To the Alley,' Gregory Porter

May 18, 2016
Originally published on May 19, 2016 11:45 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Gregory Porter is a jazz singer who is pushing the boundaries of jazz singing. In the last few years, he's recorded with bluesman Buddy Guy, classic singer Renee Fleming and, most recently, with the U.K. electronic duo Disclosure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLDING ON")

DISCLOSURE: (Singing) Weight of love on my shoulders. I thought that it would be easier than this.

CORNISH: Porter co-wrote that that song with Disclosure and rerecorded it for his new album, "Take Me To The Alley." Reviewer Tom Moon says the album continues Porter's quest to redefine his job description.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLDING ON")

GREGORY PORTER: (Singing) Weight of love on my shoulders. I thought that it would be easier than this. I thought my heart had grown colder, but the warmth of your kiss I can't dismiss.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: It's easy to get lost inside the voice of Gregory Porter. The 44-year-old singer and songwriter exudes a kind of late-night calm. Other jazz singers put flashy neon lights around their skills. Porter eases you into a comfy leather chair and invites you to relax.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLDING ON")

PORTER: (Singing) Oh, oh. Holding on. Holding on.

MOON: With his 2013 breakthrough "Liquid Spirit," Gregory Porter presented himself as a different kind of jazz singer, one who uses swing as more of a spice than the main ingredient. He continues on that road here. The title track on his new album sways like something you'd hear in a Broadway musical. It's a fable about compassion, inspired by the Pope's visit to the U.S. last fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME TO THE ALLEY")

PORTER: (Singing) Take me to the alley. Take me to the afflicted ones. Take me to the lonely ones that somehow lost their way. Let them hear me say, I am your friend. Come to my table. Rest here in my garden. You will have a pardon.

MOON: Gregory Porter's mother was a storefront preacher. You get the sense that he learned how to stir empathy from her. And his influences include Bill Withers and Terry Callier, artists who spoke elegantly about preserving one's humanity in a harsh world. On this song, Porter grows fierce as he tells his young son about the importance of passion and holding onto your dreams.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LOSE YOUR STEAM")

PORTER: (Singing) Boy, you hear me calling your name. The bridge is your time. If the bridges falls down, don't lose your head of steam. Young man, I'm counting on you. And, oh, young man, I'm counting on you to get me to the other side. Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey.

MOON: Gregory Porter isn't doing this by himself. His excellent band understands jazz, pop and R&B as a single, unified language. Everyone plays delicately, leaving room for Porter. And like any great soloist, he leaves room, too. He sings like he's savoring what's going on around him, like he's in no particular hurry to impress anyone, which, of course, makes him all the more impressive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORE THAN A WOMAN")

PORTER: (Singing) Now I see. Now I know who she is. More than a woman. Modern day deity, yes she is.

CORNISH: Gregory Porter. His latest is called "Take Me To The Alley." Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.