Gregory Porter, “All Rise” (Blue Note)
The uplifting power of love to overcome even the most wrenching adversity fuels the music of this Grammy-winning vocal star, whose deeply felt songs blur the lines between jazz, gospel, pop, funk and R&B. His stirring new album celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit.
Porter, 48, is no stranger to challenges and loss. When Gregory was a toddler, his father abandoned the family of eight children; he died of cancer when Porter was 20. The singer’s mother passed away a year later. Over the years, one of his brothers was shot and wounded walking home from work, a cross was burned in the Porters’ yard, and another brother died of COVID-19 complications in May.
The power of love permeates all six of Porter’s studio albums. His songs of hope and uplift periodically address timely issues in a world increasingly fraught with tension and peril. Witness this year’s “Mister Holland,” which was inspired by the hate-filled father of a girl Porter hoped to date when he was 17. The real Mr. Holland used a racial epithet and explicitly told Porter to get away from the family’s door, then threatened bodily harm if the young man ever tried to see his daughter again. Rather than give in to anger, Porter crafted the lyrics of the buoyant “Mister Holland” with admirable subtlety and sophistication.
When he addresses his absent father on the standout “Dad Gone Thing,” Porter tempers the disappointment and bitterness of his lyrics with his wonderfully supple and engaging baritone vocals.
On “Revival Song,” a gospel-fueled ode to Freddie Gray — a 25-year-old Black man who died while in police custody in Baltimore in 2015 — Porter attracts listeners with a snappy beat and a deceptively uplifting vibe that belie the song’s tragic inspiration.
And on the slow-building, Brazilian-flavored “Merchants of Paradise,” he juxtaposes lyrics that decry religious and political charlatans with warm, inviting music and smooth-as-molasses singing that finds the perfect sweet spot between Johnny Hartman and Marvin Gaye.
George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune
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