With the sudden and astounding success of singer Gregory Porter’s Grammy-nominated debut album, Water, just fifteen months ago, there’s presumable pressure for his follow up, out this month, to do just as its title states. All can rest assured that there’s no Sophomore Slump Syndrome here; Porter’s Be Good, is.
A collection of prismatic originals and hard-to-pull-off standards, Be Good (Motéma) once again displays Porter’s deftness with a pen, and his sentimental inclinations, both romantic and social. This time, the songs appear more personal, and the singer seems to abide even deeper in his own skin. The title track, a melancholy waltz channels the aura of Sammy Davis Jr.’s version of “Mr. Bojangles”, evoking a similar musical juxtaposition of joy and sorrow. “Real Good Hands” is a soul standard in the making, as Porter croons his way into the hearts of hope-to-be in-laws, professing both his unwavering love for their daughter and the realizations of his own developing manhood. Beyond a mere love song, Porter paints a socially imperative picture of Black family values and patriarchal homage between Black men.
Papa, don’t you frettin’
Don’t forget that one day
You was in my shoes
Somehow you paid your dues
Now you’re the picture of the man that I someday wanna be
Porter’s social commentary is somewhat of a theme throughout with songs like Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song”, the rarely-utilized heartbreaker, “Imitation of Life”, and his original “On My Way To Harlem”– a song as visual as those written during the Renaissance era in which Porter transports his listener. Be Good showcases Porter within various levels of accompaniment, with the latter proving that while an unmistakable frontman, Porter is just as comfortable with the band being out front as well. Chip Crawford on piano, Aaron James on bass, Yosuke Sato on alto saxophone, and Emanuel Harrold on drums make up the formidable ensemble, with Tivon Pennicott on tenor, and the sensational Keyon Harrold (brother to Emanuel) on trumpet, as featured guests.
Porter and Crawford perform a gorgeous stripped down rendition of the poignant “Imitation of Life” and “The Way You Want To Live”, showcasing Porter’s vocal dexterity as he flirts with various areas of his vocal range, most notably his unforgettable airiness at the end of his phrases on the more soul-leaning, back-beat ballad. The swinging “Bling Bling” proves that Porter cannot be pegged as just a crooner, as many masterful singers of his ilk often have been. The album closes with Porter singing unaccompanied and unabashedly on “God Bless The Child”. Fascinatingly, he manages to bring both a sense of originality and freshness to the standard, and although you can hear a direct influence of Nat King Cole here, it comes across as an endearing ode that you want to hear more.
Porter’s ascension is just beginning, and I predict his will be one of the most defining and relevant voices of this generation. By the looks of things (he’s touring extensively and his “Real Good Hands” has already been touted as iTunes’ “Song of the Week”) Be Good will take him right back to the Grammys; as it should.