Reviewed by Clara Wang, Fri., Dec. 14, 2018
Austin crooner Aaron Stephens matures into an R&B sound on second full-length Focus. The nine-track keeper opens with "Walkin,'" whose drifting acoustic licks are soon joined by irresistible sax dubs and Stephens' smooth voice, which time and age have added a little more gravel to. Contrary to its title, the LP samples several distinct styles, running from classic soul on the aforementioned standout to Nineties Maxwell-circa-Love-Jones vibes in "More Than Fine," and back to John Mayer pop with "Always Hiding," one after another. Stephens executes all these styles well, gliding through genres and emotions anchored by steady, funky drums. The 27-year-old is at his best when his plaintive, reaching voice soars on "When I Don't Need You" in a rare modern-day glimpse into the James Carr school of guitar and heartbreak. Like Stephens' tattoo, being "Soulful" is a vulnerability that bares the soul so it can touch yours.