Receiving vast critical acclaim for his 2011 debut album Detour Ahead, Alan Leatherman earned himself inspiring comparisons to other contemporary greats like Gregory Porter, Jamie Cullum and Jose James, who have found a way to fuse pop, soul and funk elements into a style grounded in traditional jazz. It’s one thing however, to take a divinely inspired voice like Leatherman’s – so equally adept at hushed, intimate balladry and more dramatic heartfelt expressions when the spirit leads – and apply it to a set of well-worn standards. That approach worked brilliantly on his first album, but his long-awaited, unabashedly cool and romantic follow-up Her proves that there’s even more to his artistry than being a brilliant interpreter.
Leatherman’s seven original collaborations with Brian Usifer and his pianist Rick Germanson reveal him to be a thoughtful, emotionally wide-ranging songwriter as well. He delivers the silky smooth and simmering from the get go on the sensual, blues tinged and lyrically optimistic “The Promise Of You,” then shares the other side of the love equation on the jangling, funky gospel-flavored “Gone.” Those tracks lay the foundation for a sweet stroll of engaging tunes tackling the details of relationships from the joys of love that seems inevitable (“Her”) to a bubbly blues flavored examination of the “Blame Game” we play all too often.
The singer is at his vocal best, reaching a deep level of intensity on the rock-blues-jazz fusion closer “Yours Alone.” Leatherman picks his covers well also, finding fresh ways to re-fashion John Legend’s “Green Light” (as a gently percussive, piano based ballad) and the standard “What Now My Love,” whose lighthearted arrangement and lively vocal pose a clever counterpoint to the pessimistic story it usually tells. If you love Gregory Porter and anything to do with the artfully grooving place where soul meets jazz, you must put the incredibly versatile Alan Leatherman on your musical radar!