Son Little, aka Aaron Livingston, who will perform this weekend at Aspen's Wanderlust Festival, has created a sound that many have called "genre-bending." It canvasses notes of old soul, and Livingston's vintage vocals breathe life into a style reminiscent of Otis Redding's. He steps into the political sphere of Crosby, Stills & Nash's "Ohio" on songs like "Oh Mother," which brings about Livingston's perspectives on the atrocities of racial discrimination, heightened by current events and incidents involving police brutality. His music also crosses the bridge into the sexier, less-charged territories of "The River," a song electrified with passion, longing and infectious hand claps. Visceral and carnal, his most popular song is a departure from his gospel roots, drenched in deep Southern twang and bluesy pauses.
For many listeners, the gateway Son Little song is "The River," a raw combination of rich soul, dirty South, rock and a choral intimacy. The soul inherent on Son Little's tracks is transportive, not only from genre to genre, but through time. While Son Little's distinctive voice does reflect obvious influence from early American soul, lyrically his perspectives range from the spirit of the fighting Irish to the reflective observations of Rastafari.
Many artists would consider collaborations with the Roots and with RJD2 to be career-defining, but in Livingston's case, the partnerships were less pinnacle than they were contributory to his particularly honest style. By exploring various musical styles, including hip-hop, country, electronic and jazz, Livingston borrows technical elements and pays tribute to a multitude of influences — including his observations of people and places while traveling as a musician.
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"I've always liked how different people in different areas act or behave," he says. "Loneliness, even, might not be the same as it is in Amsterdam as it is in New York. A little thing, but it can quantify the way that it changes a person, or the type of perspective it gives you."
Asked whether he writes in a conscious manner, addressing particular societal ills, Livingston notes that his material is less directed than that. "No matter what anybody writes, it's a triumph, it's experience," he says. "Memories find their way in. It's pointless to avoid anything you have experienced. You are yourself." Son Little is scheduled to perform at Aspen's Wanderlust Festival on Saturday, July 2. Not atypical for an artist on the road, Livingston asked us, "What is the lineup for that?" Upon hearing the eclectic list of Wanderlust artists (which includes Steel Pulse, Michael Franti, Nahko & Medicine for the People, Beats Antique and Jose Gonzales), Livingston elaborates upon the diverse group of artists he now gets to perform alongside: "I'm from hip-hop, but I've played with Leon Bridges, Mumford & Sons, folk and rockabilly. My style is very different from theirs, but it's all about telling stories."
Referring to Jay Z's unprecedented headlining set at Glastonbury in 2008, at the time met with opposition from some rock fans, Livingston embraces a music community that is less obsessed with genre and more concerned with the common goal of sharing stories: "I think that was real cool."
Son Little will perform as part of the Wanderlust Festival lineup in Snowmass on Saturday, July 2.