When I read that Aaron Frazer had stepped out from behind the drum kit to release his debut solo album away from Durand Jones & The Indications, my first thought was, "I'm sorry, what? Who?"
Then I read that Frazer's album was produced by Dan Auerbach and I thought, "Uh, nevermind."
But then, I saw all the wonderful reviews and thought, "Means nothing. Lotsa crap gets 4-stars!"
The final straw was when my buddy Sal Maida played a track on his Spin Cycle radio show. I thought, "Okay, now this might be worth investigating."
Let me continue by saying, I dig The Black Keys. At least some of their albums. But I find Dan Auerbach's production skills to be hit and miss. What he did on Dr. John's "Locked Down" was pure genius. What he did to the Pretenders was unforgiveable.
To be honest, I find the whole retro soul---James Brown meets Billie Holiday meets Dusty Springfield in Memphis with a bottle of booze and a bag full of King Curtis, Smokey Robinson and Stylistics cassettes a little tired at this point. Nathaniel Rateliff, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Shannon Shaw, Andra Day...there is something to like in all of it. But most of the time, I'm ultimately left cold, wanting to simply hear the masters instead.
Only Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones have delivered substance over style...to my ears.
And here's Aaron Frazer, with his not very powerful squeal of a falsetto, and a band that longs to be in a Muscle Shoals studio circa 1969, churning out reminder after reminder that, we've heard this all before only better. "Girl On The Phone is Percy Sledge's "It Tears Me Up" and Irma Thomas' "Wish Someone Would Care." "If I Got It" is Smokey's "More Love." And "Done Lyin'" is actually Babs & Barry Gibb's "Guilty!" I can play Name That Tune all night!
So what's the good news? Well, I'm not sure.
I listened to "Introducing Aaron Frazer" in its entirety. I wasn't minding any of it. In fact, when I played individual tunes as I was writing this up, I found a little more to like.
Maybe I am missing the point. I imagine there are a dozen or more vintage songs with the exact same arrangement as Percy's "It Tears Me Up" and Irma's "Wish Someone Would Care." It didn't bother me then. Why should it bother me now? I imagine the whole retro soul scene is intentionally all about that. Hell, so is rock and roll, at its core, no?
Is it just the 4-star reviews being tossed about like t-shirts from an air gun at a sporting event that bothers me?
"Introducing Aaron Frazer" hit a few nerves, one being the "I dig this sound" nerve while simultaneously hitting the "This is pure novelty" nerve. After 45 minutes, the songs started to become one big sound as opposed to individual achievements. This is not a great soul record at all. But it works the way one of Brian Eno's "Airport" records works---it's there doing its own thing while you are doing yours.
I will not reach for an Aaron Frazer record when I want to hear Smokey Robinson. I will reach for a Smokey Robinson record. And that is not what a 4-star record is supposed to do.