On his debut solo album, Shine Through, Orange County native Aloe Blacc combined elements of soul music with some new-school hip hop, working with producers such as Madlib and Oh No. On his sophomore effort, Blacc created an organic throwback soul record that achieves the rare feat of sounding dated and relevant at once. This is in large part to the political awareness of songs such as “I Need a Dollar,” “Miss Fortune,” and “Life So Hard.” This isn’t a retro soul record merely meant to be fun party music. It’s concerned with the hard times people are going through right now. This isn’t to say that this record is a complete downer. Instead, Blacc takes us through a wide range of emotion that places urgent pleas for political and economic action right alongside reflections on love and loss. It’s all part of life, and it all works in the mature hands of Blacc.

If forced to make comparisons, I would probably choose either Bill Withers or Billy Preston, not just because of their vocal quality, but their songwriting as well. They all have the ability to deliver a driving funky number with an urgency that made you pay attention, only to come back with a soulful ballad that could break your heart. Blacc has a smooth and strong tenor, and he has learned to stretch the melody so that the quality of his voice can shine.

Arranging the strings and horns and playing on keyboards is Leon Michels of El Michels Affair and formerly of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. He provides a rich sound for the album, but never outshines Blacc’s vocals and lyrics. He shines on “Miss Fortune,” collaborating with Blacc to create a reggae rhythm during the verse heavy on the Hammond organ, only to switch gears in the chorus to reach swirling strings, wah wah guitar, and a rapid keyboard line. It works very well.

My only real complaint is that the material is heavier on the slow numbers than the up and mid tempo ones. This leaves the overall listening experience to drag at times, especially at the end of the album. It’s not that any one song is bad; it’s just that after having a good variety of songs to take us through a wide emotional experience, we dwell on one feeling for too long. Of the slower numbers, I feel compelled to mention the cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale,” which smoothes out the stiffness of the original version and allows for the verse to build powerfully into the chorus, giving emphasis to the lyrics in a way I never felt Nico was never capable of delivering.

Aloe Blacc has never sounded stronger than on this album. It’s hard producing a soul album that is musically up to par with past greats, but making it relevant in 2010 is a task that only a small handful of people are up to. With Good Things, we can count Blacc among the best.