Listening to Gregory Porter, it’s difficult to discern his most venerable quality. There’s the voice-that velvet-wrapped-gravel sound that is both arresting and transporting. There’s his unique way of sieving classic soul sensibilities-a melting pot of Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield-through a jazz filter. And there are the songs-lullabies, protests and everything in between-that are the quintessence of plainspoken eloquence. Then, at some mid-track point, you realize the qualities cannot be separated. His brilliance demands holistic appreciation. “I’m trying to put me inside the music,” he posits in the promotional video for Liquid Spirit, his Blue Note debut. And so he does, with unwavering integrity.
Remarkably, Porter emerged fully formed with his first album, 2010’s Water. So with Liquid Spirit, his third release, it’s not a question of improvement, or even expansion, but renewed admiration. Among the 14 tracks are only three covers: a stark, riveting “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” a punchy, self-pitying “Lonesome Lover” and a simmering, Stax-hip “The ‘In’ Crowd.”
Across the album’s 11 originals, Porter has plenty to say. He opens with “No Love Dying,” an undulating expression of hope in the face of heartbreak. “Hey Laura,” reminiscent of Brook Benton’s rumbling majesty, explores more desperate heartache, as does the wistfully dejected “Brown Grass.” Conversely, “Wind Song” speaks to love’s durability.
Porter’s profound gift for social commentary is exercised on the gently allegorical “When Love Is King” and more overtly on the funk-lined “Free” and the testifying title track. But the song that encapsulates Porter’s artistry is “Musical Genocide,” a stealthy, storm-clouded rail against pop-cultural vacuity.