Raphael Saadiq Stone Rollin’ Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Vintage touches and modern twists combine on an irrepressible soul record.

Lloyd Bradley 2011

It’s always nice to hear a soul singer who genuinely revels in the job title, and Raphael Saadiq has taken his responsibilities seriously for some 20 years now: first as one third of the nu-soul vocal trio Tony! Toni! Toné!, then as a solo singer. Each manifestation has been hugely successful, confounding expectations to take inherent soulfulness in any direction possible. Stone Rollin’ continues that approach, with a vintage rhythm & blues eclecticism that puts you in mind of early P-Funk’s musical hyperactivity, when artists messed about with whatever black music took their fancy and turned it into their own.

Tracks Heart Attack, Go to Hell and Stone Rollin’ all live up to their hard-rocking titles, providing invigorating blasts of the sort of self-celebratory rock-inspiring funk reminiscent of Sly Stone or vintage Bobby Womack. A big helping of urban blues is carried into Radio and Over You, which occupy that raucously joyous place where R&B originally met rock’n’roll. However, all of this is anchored by Saadiq’s handling of melodies, in both the vocals and the playing (most of which he handles himself). Everything is so assured that it doesn’t matter how hollerin’ it gets, everything still sounds like a song.

On the quartet that closes the album we really get what the singer is all about. Just Don’t, The Answer and Good Man are irresistible mid-tempo soul numbers, with such a light touch to the arrangements that big orchestrations never overwhelm the vocal harmonies. It’s a totally natural swing, one that Saadiq has always effortlessly pulled off; it makes the complex seem so easy on the ear that you’re seduced by the half-hidden touches and flourishes without even realising you’re paying attention. Just Don’t showcases Tony! Toni! Toné!-style vocals, The Answer is wistful jazz/funk, while Good Man has more than a touch of Willie Mitchell about it.

Worth the price of admission by itself, though, is Movin’ Down the Line, a sunny, relaxed and breezily rocking, deceptively simple piece of work. It has every bit of digital snap needed to succeed among today’s sounds; but Saadiq’s masterful use of a big brass section lurking w-a-a-ay into the background picks the tune up and puts it down in a completely different era. The song turns out both laidback and urgent at the same time, and is utterly irrepressible for it. Pretty much like the rest of this album, on which such Saadiq trademarks work their magic once more.

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