Philadelphia songwriter‘s music hits home with audiences

Madeline McCarthy

In the music industry, the idea of reinvention is normally seen as bizarre. Philadelphia-born singer/songwriter Aaron Livingston, otherwise known as “Son Little,” would disagree. After lending his voice to tracks with The Roots and producer RJD2 for a joint album called “The Abandoned Lullaby,” he has reemerged as Son Little, pursuing a solo career to allow himself the freedom to focus on his personal interests as a musician.

Son Little’s debut track, “Cross My Heart,” is a good example of his overall style: over a deceptively slinky groove-shades of 70’s Marvin Gaye, a soft lover’s plea emerges. However, as the blues guitar slides over the top of the track, the listener is clued into a deeper, older invocation. His lyrics offer a meditation on the ease with which black lives are erased, inspired by Trayvon Martin.

Overall, ANTI-singing Son Little is described as a “cross genre soul explorer,” merging soul, blues, hip-hop, acid rock and more. He has been said to be a fusion of young Stevie Wonder, Little Willie John and Bob Marley—all of his pieces are mosaics of different genres. 

New York Times writer Jon Pareles raved, “His band uses electronics to toss in the odd percussive loop or synthesizer swoop; his guitar playing is laconic but pointed; and his lyrics mingle existential fears with his blandishments.”

The EP “Things I Forgot” opens with “The River,” a seductive reconstruction of American blues infused with elements of hip-hop. Hand clapping and guitars abound. Son Little flirtatiously requests that his lady friend accompany him for what can only be assumed to be fun escapades in a forest, culminating in a jump in the river. 

Next is “Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches,” which New York Times described as a crawling blues-rock song jabbed by his dissonant guitar and stray sci-fi echo effects. I think this song is the best example of his vocal prowess. He laments his fear of love, asking if he is “just another runaway.” When listening to the song, my mind drew up a music video concept: Son Little sadly trekking through an empty Texan flatland, while his lonely voice echoed throughout.

The guitar groove of the already-mentioned song “Cross My Heart” bears haunting witness to departed friends, while “Joy” re-invents the classic soul ballad. A synth keyboard mixes with long ballad notes to create the perfect heartbroken croon. He misses his “joy,” but clearly has a love/hate relationship with it. 

He states, “leave my weary heart alone,” but begs it to come back all the same. One of his really interesting musical choices was to have the song completely stop and restart at various points. It keeps the listener interested in the song, by piquing their interest. 

The last song, “Alice,” offers an inventive mix of garage punk and psychedelic soul. The drum is easily noticed, providing a soft rhythm. He sounds interestingly Bob Dylan-esque. The verses are slow, and the chorus and bridge picks up. Synth instruments combine with classic rock band instruments to create a smooth melody overall.

Son Little’s songs are all slow moving and purposeful, crafted so each word, carried along with Little’s signature fervent vocals, hits home. They are songs about love, but also loss and life. The music always connects to something bigger. The story about the EP is finding out where love fits into life, and how we live it. 

The only question the listener might have left is where his name came from. In fact, “Son Little” is just a reversed nickname, stemming from his nickname at his old place of work, “little son,” poking fun at his actual last name. 

In an interview with Complex, Son Little described how when he started saying it to people, they took it in multiple different directions, which he likes. “I like to let people feel whatever they want to, and make whatever connections they want to make,” he stated. 

I think that is the attitude to use when listening to this EP. It’s got a great voice, very original melodies, and lyrics that take a much overused situation (broken heart), and make it new again.

 It’s up to the listener now to apply the songs to their lives.