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Son Little finds groove with Mavis Staples

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Up-and-coming neo-soul artist Son Little is touring with Leon Bridges. (Courtesy Anthony Saint James)

Philadelphia-bred Aaron Livingston says it’s occasionally confusing when fans greet him as Son Little, the neo-soul alter ego he created three years ago after signing to ANTI-Records.

But with just one EP (2014’s “Things I Forgot”) and 2016’s album “Son Little,” he isn’t fighting off the paparazzi just yet: “Anybody that would address me as Son Little knows my real name, too, and my friends have been very good about using both,” he says.

With his Sam Cooke-sleek style, Son Little is gaining cachet, touring with fellow retro-R&B revivalist Leon Bridges; the show is in Oakland this week.

He’s also been working with gospel great Mavis Staples.

At the urging of ANTI executive Andy Kaulkin, he cowrote and produced the EP “Your Good Fortune” for his label mate. She won a 2016 Grammy for best roots performance for its cover of “See That My Grave is Kept Clean.”

“So I guess I got a Grammy, too, theoretically, although I don’t know if I get the statue or not,” says Little, who also composed the track “One Love” on Staples’ new album, “Livin’ On a High Note.”

Kaulkin signed Livingston, then allowed him to create the bluesy act and pseudonym. Son Little’s sound revolves around a minimal rhythm section of tape loops and drum machines, subtle guitar and echoey vocals. Songs such as “O Mother,” “Doctor’s In” and “About a Flood” are reminiscent of scratchy vintage 78s.

Initially, Livingston says, he didn’t intend to echo bluesman Son House: “But I realized there was a similarity, because on all these old Son House records, all you hear is him stomping his foot and singing. So I just started doing a more hi-tech version of that.”

In some ways, Livingston’s persona has been gestating since childhood. Every Sunday he attended his Presbyterian-minister father’s church and grew fascinated with the mellifluous interplay of the choir voices. “I developed my love for harmony from that,” he says. “My dad never skimped on parts. He would meander through them. He might sing a tenor part one day, and then a baritone part, the next. And that really piqued my interest in improvisation, too.”

Kaulkin must have sensed the religious affinity in his artists, even though at one point Little wondered how he would write a song for Mavis Staples. He says, “She’s a cultural icon with 60 years in the music business, so I wanted to learn as much as I could about her roots and her era. And we definitely found some common ground.”

IF YOU GO
Leon Bridges, with Son Little
Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. March 17
Tickets: $35 (sold out)
Contact: (510) 303-2250, www.ticketmaster.com

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