eople who’ve seen Daria Geller’s artfully filmed video for Son Little’s new song “Suffer” might take away the impression that the LA native’s exploring Marvin Gaye-style soundscapes with a social conscience on his forthcoming album, “aloha” (due Jan. 31 from Anti). They wouldn’t be entirely wrong; the seductive yet soothing track does offer some insight, as the album considers addiction, suicide, demands of the heart and an increasingly chaotic world.
But “aloha” was shaped by other factors too. Little recorded “aloha” over eight days in Paris with Manu Chao producer Renaud Letang — the first time he trusted another producer to guide his sonic direction. That choice instantly assumed greater value when, during preproduction at home in California, a fried hard drive destroyed almost a dozen demos of material Little had intended for the new album. With no recorded demos to build on, and the clock ticking, Little started writing new songs, essentially refashioning his anxiety into a bridge to bigger existential questions.
Once in the studio with Letang, Little still played most of the instruments, but his view of where the songs could go was widened by Letang’s impartial perspective. The tracks consequently have more dimension, with a lot of tasty, intricately arranged parts that depart significantly from the acoustic textures of 2017’s “New Magic.” Since his 2014 EP “Things I Forgot” — his first calling card as Son Little after a handful of digital releases under his given name, Aaron Livingston, and attention-getting work with the Roots and Philly DJ RJD2 — Little has stood firm on a bedrock of blues and soul while reviving old-school style with hip-hop, rock, and contemporary sounds. (That approach has worked well for him as a producer too — gospel legend and labelmate Mavis Staples’ Little-produced EP “Your Good Fortune” featured a rendition of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” that won a Grammy Award for Best Roots Performance.)
But instead of the gritty blues and grooving R&B that gave “Things I Forgot” and Little’s 2015 self-titled full-length their distinctive feel, “aloha” is rooted more obviously in soul. Guitar riffs cascade into undercurrents of percussion, organ, reverbed harmonies and triangle accents that recall Philly soul’s heyday. Catchy hooks suggest dance floor action while dressed in thoughtful philosophy. Dreamy ruminations alternate with hooky pop tunes, danceable R&B, and romantic balladry gently kissed by gospel, folk and rock.
Fans of Michael Kiwanuka and Leon Bridges who haven’t already added Little to their playlists should do so. Two songs from “aloha,” “Hey Rose” and “About Her. Again.,” are also featured on “Invisible,” an EP released in October that Little’s been promoting on the road. The current leg of his tour brings him and opener Christopher Paul Stelling to the Lodge Room next Thursday.
KCSN presents Son Little at the Lodge Room Highland Park, 104 N. Ave. 56, Highland Park, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12; $25. All-ages event. Tickets: eventbrite.com/e/son-little-lodge-room-highland-park-tickets-63902725773. Info: (323) 509-2861. Sonlittle.com, lodgeroomhlp.com.