Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'
You'd probably know Raphael Saadiq from his time in Tony! Toni! Toné! and if not from there then you just wouldn't know him. I certainly didn't. But fortunately, my good friend Carrie sent a cadre of crustaceans all the way from India and their little shells, arranged the right way spelled the words, "Check out Raphael Saadiq's Stone Rollin'." She may have also sent me a facebook message or something, but that's not important. Sometimes it's better to enjoy the made up wonderful over the true mundane. And so, crustaceans. With letter-offering shells. And so, with that I tracked down this great new album that blends R&B, rock, funk, pop and some cacophonous brilliance. Saadiq has a sort of pure, wailing, high-register voice that doesn't lend itself to perfectly to every song, but it's not at all broken. He ventures into blue-eyed soul at times, in the vein of Hall and Oates, hits some Michael Jacksonian notes here and there and even touches on the blues. And in each foray his voice rides at the forefront. That is good and bad as in some songs the elaborate backing production seems so mixed in that it barely resonates. But mostly it's good, carrying us through songs that feel timeless.
In a lot of ways, Saadiq plays a poor man's Jamie Lidell. His songs are peppered, lightly seasoned to taste, with electronic elements. Stone Rollin' doesn't overflow with memorable tracks, but there are at least 8 of the 10 here that stick with you and instantly pique interest. Maybe that's more a factor of the amount of music I listen to than one of his success, and I'd be (and am) the first to admit that possibility. Saadiq is very openly indebted to his influences and any parroting or retreading he does is strong and sonically interesting. A song like "Daydreams" that shows up mid-album rides that chugging-train vibe '20s and '30s blues. Or "Heart Attack" and "Movin' Down The Line," both of which are gorgeous and pristine in their simplicity, dressed with backing vocals, as they bring back the feeling and texture of early Al Green. Specifically with "Movin' Down The Line" there's a brilliant spoken section backed by a wall of strings and horns. This is Motown redux, presented in even greater earnest.
"Just Don't" is perhaps the best song on the album, filled with tinny guitars and a bounding assemblage of vocals in which Saadiq does call-and-response with himself. But the layering is so brilliant that the song carries a weightier emotional resonance. And when a grinding riff comes in to fill the back-end, it's just about as smooth and cool as music can get. A long breakdown with spacey tones completes the journey. Hopping back to track two, "Go To Hell" another contender for best track on the disc, there's more powerful strings, horns, rattling drums and brilliant backing vox. It's so full and epic that it is undeniable. "Good Man" goes the other way, hitting something similar to the best stuff by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. And really, jeez, I should just amend the note from before and say that the whole album is stellar. This is the kind of under-the-radar music that even Pitchfork hasn't gotten around to just yet. Perhaps it's because the album has done better across the pond than here, but that's really no good reason.
I am reluctant to keep giving albums such heavy nods. Reviewers, even the amateur like myself are supposed to be harsh and analytical, but here's the thing: Stone Rollin' does exactly what its album art, in both forms you see above, purport to do. It's a soulful, retro-rock-soul-stravaganza. And yet it still pushes the envelope in places like "The Answer" with his mournful Marvin Gaye-style march anthem and the closer "The Perfect Storm." Sure, these ideas, lyrically and musically are not new. They're not entirely innovative or unexpected, but they are so precisely and beautifully done that the music is enjoyable. Saadiq has assembled a nearly perfect album and were we all able to own everything that ever exists I'd stand by much of Stone Rollin' being up high in the rotation. Plain, fucking beautiful music. Check it out. There's a stream up now and if you click on this sentence you'll be tossed to it. Or, hell, go to Record Store day tomorrow, support local business and get some great tunes. Now I have to dispatch a team of dyed albatross with to my friend Carrie. Arranged correctly, they will spell out "Thank you."
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