Album Review: Aaron Frazer – Introducing…     (Dead Oceans)

The debut solo album by Aaron Frazer is actually a time vortex where you are transported back to the latter Sixties in America when Soul music was on an artistic plateau. Anyone hooked on Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty in that time will instantly recognise the Motown to Philly Soul to Stax sounds.

And especially the American Sound Studios of Memphis and Chips Moman. Where Aretha recorded key tracks to her classic, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You album and Dusty outdid her on Dusty in Memphis.

Frazer hails from Brooklyn but was raised in Baltimore. The Wire country. He found initial attention in another group of retro-Soul purveyors Durand Jones and the Indications. Frazer is the co-lead singer and drummer. So, there’s some Marvin Gaye pedigree for you.

The producer is Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys. Their stated aim was to recreate a Soul sound but not sound retro. They achieve the first part. There is nothing wrong sounding like a previous time if the execution is worthy. If it’s right, it’s right and the when is irrelevant.

To this end there appears to be a large cast of players. Some of the original Memphis Boys (from American Studios)…musicians from the Daptones-Big Crown Records stable.

You Don’t Wanna Be My Baby kicks it off and instantly you hear Frazer sing with a falsetto that is pure, clean and smooth as whipped cream. More the fluidity and smooth velvet of Smokey Robinson and Russell Thompkins, Jr of The Stylistics.  Certainly, there is a little of Curtis Mayfield too, but we will come to that soon.

If I Got It (Your Love Brought It) has Memphis style horns and reaches back further to the Deep Southern Soul styles of countless lesser-known black vocal groups, like The Ovations say. This is a Black Pride song under the cover of a love song. Sam Cooke helped to kick this off with A Change Is Gonna Come.

That is one of three singles off the album and another is Bad News. A little bit of Funk in the mix, of the type that Norman Whitfield introduced to The Temptations sound when they went all psychedelic Soul shack. More overtly socio-political and would fit right in with Curtis Mayfield’s Freddy’s Dead. The only song on the album where we get to hear Frazer slip into his natural register. A White Soul to Folkie sound.

Have Mercy. The title itself conveys classic Black music. The music is pared back. The voice is highlighted and Frazer shows a softer touch and sustains the higher tone. The backing vocals also sound like the same person.

Lover Girl has a refrain, never gonna find me another lover girl like you which sounds a lot like Smokey Robinson’s singing on I Second That Emotion. Short but very sweet.

Ride With Me, co-written with Bobby Wood’s from the Memphis Boys is a stand-out. The tradition is protest and social consciousness which reaches back to the mystical. You could start with Worried Man Blues and move through Mystery Train to Curtis and up to Marvin Gaye when he was wondering What’s Goin’ On. The train as metaphor, powerful totem and dream symbol.

Tell all the children there’s a new day dawning/ Set you free/ All you gotta do is ride with me.

Love Is floats in the stratosphere and is patterned on Heaven from The Rolling Stones Tattoo You album. So, this is White-Boy Soul and the merging of race and colour. Frazer is not a leather-lunged belter. He does not over-emote but keeps it all cool. No less passion for that. The result is sensuality and music which is more of a slow burn.

Over You is the third single. Frazer drums all through the album. On this one, they are out front and leading and he gets to dip his toes into Disco and some shaking of booty. Sings with power and punch while still at the top of his register.

A very pretty debut album. Has depth and a solid foundation as you keep listening. Absolutely and solidly retro. But then it is prescient to present time. In 1968, America was in the grip of anger and division. Ahh, you can’t escape……

Rev Orange Peel