Listen to this track by impressionistic blues and soul proponent for the 21st century, Son Little. It’s “Cross My Heart”, his initial foray into a new musical milieu under this new moniker in November of 2013. His birth name is Aaron Livingston, known for projects under that name in collaborations with Rjd2 and The Roots.
The evocation of the blues is palpable here on his first single under the Son Little banner, and for more than the standard and purely musical reasons, although this song departs from that template too. For many, the blues is not so much a musical form as it is a spiritual state, and a connection to a shared history that is less joyous than even the best in a musical genre has shown us.
At the root, and established before the branches of rock and soul music were cultivated , the blues has always been about pain and dehumanization, and the raw expression in reaction to those. That’s what Son Little hooks into here.
Yet, somehow this is not about some scholarly recreation of classic blues or soul. There are greater depths to be discovered here.
A recent signee to Anti-Records (Neko Case, Bettye LaVette, Mavis Staples), the buzz around Son Little has been about classic imagery and certainly classic musical reference points when it comes to soul music with a conscience. Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder have all been mentioned as stylistic sign posts to where Son Little’s music is coming from. There are certainly vocal notes that you can detect in his delivery that ring true to those comparisons. But as mentioned, I think the comparisons go deeper than that, and once again I’m not just talking about common musical origins of from where his music springs.
All of those artists listed as frames of reference to Son Little’s work sought to understand their times, and to reflect that understanding in their own work for an audience who experienced similar feelings of doubt, fear, and outrage in a world that they have often found to be unwelcoming, and sometimes downright hostile. Stevie Wonder traced the hardships of living for the city. Those same hardships made Marvin Gaye want to holler. And Bob Marley asked how long must the deaths of prophets be endured before we are redeemed. And like those examples, this song deals with something that is universal, no matter what the cultural background; loss.
Yet like the work of those earlier artists to whom Son Little has been compared, this song is ultimately hopeful. Because in the loss that is eluded to, there is the preservation of the memory as well, of friendship and connection that made the loss so significant. The very creation of this song signals that perhaps all is not lost if injustice can be called out the way it is here. It reminds us about how injustice and the loss that comes out of it should be called out in an equitable world where differences are celebrated instead of being the subject of suspicion and violence.
But, again this song is hopeful, and not a diatribe. It’s about sorrow, which is as valuable a thing to sing about as happiness is. It is a common tie that binds everyone to the human experience. And therefore, it reminds us that in sorrow, we are not alone. That’s why the blues and soul music still has legs in the 21st century; the best of it continues to strike the vital balance between sorrow and hope in the lives of everyone. In Son Little, we’re invited into that dynamic, with a form of transformative and highly evolved soul music made for its times, and by an artist who is bound to go even deeper with still so much ground for one of his capabilities to cover.
Son Little is currently playing dates for the rest of the month and into July. You can learn more about him from the Anti-Records artist page.