Still Rising by Gregory Porter – Album Review
By Ellie Victor
Maybe Gregory Porter‘s late-blooming career should be a lesson. The soul singer is 50 now – and he was nearly 40 before his debut album came out. In the years before that he plied his trade, learnt the ropes in the clubs, his gorgeous cognac voice maturing until it really suited his sweet blend of lovelorn soft soul, pop, blues, gospel and light jazz. Now he sells out arenas and collaborates here with Paloma Faith, Dianne Reeves, Laura Mvula and others, covers tracks by Moby, Ella Fitzgerald and Sting and releases four new tracks.
I listened to the LP version of Still Rising, which is a slight but satisfying seven tracks, although it’s still a neat summation of the singer’s career so far. The CD is a much bigger double disc affair with more than 30 cuts.
Opener ‘I Will’ is trademark Porter, unfalteringly optimistic, smooth as silk and with just about enough festive tinkling to make it into the seasonal stocking filler market in much the same way soundalike Jamie Cullum has done even without the killer voice. Indeed, Cullum shows up here for a fairly plodding interpretation of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’.
Standout track, ‘No Love Dying’ – for some time a live showstopper – riffs off the standards, but Porter gives it enough of a modern slant (mainly through Ondrej Pivec’s sweet burbling organ work) to satisfy pop lovers. But its Tivon Pennicott’s sublime tenor sax that nails the track into the ‘timeless’ category, before Porter gives it the kind of big finish that has so enthralled the arenas.
Real intrigue though comes with Porter’s take on Moby’s ‘Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?’ – and the track perhaps reveals where his next moves might come from. Here, the original’s techno gospel repetition is transformed into a plaintive late night soul ballad, that even hints at the majesty of The Blue Nile’s best midnight moments from the sublime Hats.
Yes, Porter took some time to make his mark – but better that than the latest big-voiced talent show wannabe burning out before their 30th. This singer is here to stay – and Still Rising neatly bookmarks his career so far – with enough new ideas to suggest there are plenty of interesting new pathways for the man with the golden voice to go down.