On his third solo album the former Tony! Toni! Toné and Lucy Pearl singer Raphael Saadiq serves up a sumptuous meal of classic soul grooves. “Not retro”, protests he.
Self-produced and often self-played, The Way I See It undoubtedly carries the right title. And heaven forbid that anybody should think this highly skilled and, indeed, swinging musical look at classic ’60s Soul was no more than an opportunistic retread of the grooves that have brought success to Amy Winehouse, Duffy and the like. “Retro don’t really have no swing.” Saadiq says. “Mine’s not retro. I know what I’m doing. I played for these people. That’s the difference.”
This is no idle boast. Saadiq was still in short trousers when he played bass in various soul groups and gospel outfits who supported The Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Gospel Keynotes and The Pilgrim Jubilees when they passed through his hometown, Oakland, California. Furthermore, he was still in High School, when he outplayed 60 other bass players to end up in Prince‘s Parade tour band.
He later found success in proto-boy/dance band Tony! Toni! Toné. His next group Lucy Pearl with former En Vogue singer Dawn Robinson and ex-A Tribe Called Quest man Ali Shaheed Muhammad recorded an excellent album before anti-climactically fizzling out.
Since then, between recording solo albums, Saadiq has concentrated on production work (Joss Stone, d’Angelo, Amp Fiddler, John Legend and many others). Throughout, his love for Soul in the style of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield has shone through. Those who still can from that generation of singers reciprocate the feeling here – Stevie Wonder contributes a sharp and short harmonica solo to The Way I Say It, on Never Give You Up.
There are highlights aplenty on this sure-footed, self-composed homage to classic Soul. It begins with the beautifully sung Let’s Take A Walk, a joyous slice of post-Temptations harmonies coupled with an impeccable shuffle-beat.
As throughout the album, Saadiq’s phrasing as a singer as well as his melodic touch on the bass are outstanding. The anguished 100 Yard Dash boasts one especially superb bass riff. The powerful, brass-driven Big Easy suddenly breaks into a carnival-like brass melee, courtesy of New Orleans’ ReBirth Brass Band.
There is one duff track, a second take of Oh Girl with guest vocalist Jay-Z. But as it is the bonus track stuck on at the end, we can easily ignore it in favour of the best track on this effortlessly elegant album, Love That Girl. It’s another song with a great bass line which perfectly illustrates Saadiq’s line about “swing” and “retro”.