It’s unusual for ascendant artists to stick with the backing bands that got them started, which makes Gregory Porter a bit different, after all it’s his name that sells and he’d probably do just as well with session musicians. But Porter is a singer with integrity, that much is clear when you listen to this his second release on Blue Note. Take Me To The Alley is a more soulful album than 2014’s breakout Liquid Spirit which mixed soul, blues and jazz in just about equal amounts, there are a few energetic tracks on here but either Porter is mellowing or he’s realised that that style has broader appeal.
However, the title track is powerful despite its mellow vibe, the singing is excellent from Porter and restrained backing by Alicia Olatuja works really well. It’s the first time I’ve heard him perform with another singer and the contrasting styles/tones work very effectively. Of the 12 tracks on Take Me to the Alley the opener is one of the strongest but there is plenty more to enjoy. ‘Consequence of Love’ has a piano riff that’s strongly reminiscent of a seventies classic but is part of the smoothest groove on the album, Porter’s honeyed baritone staying just the right side of smooth. A soulful song with the great line: “The game for me is you, the game for me is love”, one of many penned by the singer.
‘In Fashion’ deals with the travails of the working musician, not so different from the life of a long distance trucker, if ultimately a little more glamorous. It includes the lines: “Last year’s runway passion no longer in fashion” and “I find myself obsessed with how you dress and whom you see when you’re without me”, which sounds like they could be true to life and that is undoubtedly part of this artists appeal. It also includes a bit of scat over a familiar rhythm line, something that Porter should do more of. ‘Fan the Flames’ is one of the more go ahead jazz numbers with some nice work by horns and piano, with Porter revealing that he can do dynamics as well as the rest of them.
Take Me to the Alley sees Porter seeking to expand his audience by toning down the jazz aspect of his work, which seems like a bit of a pity. As you can hear on his earlier releases the man has a truly fabulous voice and he can write a good tune so it seems a pity to tone it down but you can understand the desire for success and we do have those earlier albums.