Review: Son Little Brims with Feeling on ‘Like Neptune’

small son
Like Neptune
(ANTI-)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

It’s only been a few years since Son Little’s previous album, but a lot has happened in the meantime. Intensive therapy initiated by sexual abuse in his youth helped Little (born Aaron Livingston) come to terms with a troubled past. He says in the promotional notes that “[t]This is the first time that I make music for the pure pleasure of creating.

It sounds like that.

He goes back to basics by recording the vast majority of the instruments himself. Each song is apparently sung by a different personality, revealed by its recent exhaustive analysis. It might sound overly complex or even pretentious, but Little’s vocals and a melodic sense that combines blues and classic R&B, with a bit of hip-hop in something that feels organic, power these dozens of house selections.

A few stand out. On “stoned love”, he slips into the seductive mood of Marvin Gaye on one of the most hypnotic and melodious compositions of his four-album career. He sings with just skeleton guitar and minimal keyboards on the chamber ballad “Gloria” and turns to Stevie Wonder’s more passionate side for the sweet desire to “bend his ears.” There’s more than a little prince to Little’s approach, especially in dark, “deeper”-filled R&B. It’s a mostly rhythmic collection, but the songs are so obviously serious with instantly memorable choruses, that the album never feels languid or lazy.

The stripped down nature of the recording, including the use of usually sticky drum machines, is more charming than the discounted fare. Credit Little whose gritty voice, never overdone or undercooked, nails the groove. Yet when the tempo barely goes from there to switch to “Playing Both Sides”, the effect is intense and powerful with just enough attitude from Prince to push it over the top.

This is soul music of the rawest and most soulful type; naked but brimming with more sentiment than the majority of today’s stars in the genre whose elaborate productions can’t touch Son Little’s cottage project for purity and emotional clarity.

(Photo by Jim Bennett/WireImage)

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