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Album Review: Raphael Saadiq - 'Stone Rollin'

Lightning Strikes Twice?

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Album Review: Raphael Saadiq - 'Stone Rollin'
© Columbia Records.
Back in 2008, Raphael Saadiq captured lightning in a bottle with his brilliant album of Motown-inspired songs, The Way I See It. But when the word leaked that his next album, Stone Rollin', would reach back even further in time to the music of the 1950s and early '60s, an obvious question arose: could lightning strike twice? And the short answer is yes. Stone Rollin', released in the U.S. on May 10, 2011 is another brilliant album of all-new retro-Soul songs by Mr. Saadiq. And while it might not have the element of surprise on it's side like The Way I See It did, the album's deserved all it's pre-release attention.

Gusty & Lusty

For those wondering if Raphael Saadiq's fourth album, Stone Rollin' is just a continuation of this third album, The Way I See It, the answer's a definite no. The Way was rooted in the R&B and Soul music of the late 1960s and early '70s, particularly the Motown sound and classic Stax records. Stone Rollin', on the other hand, owes it's much of it's sound to the Chess Records rock 'n roll and bluesy R&B tunes of the 1950s, specifically those by artists like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and The Dells. That said, there are a few obvious musical similarities between the projects, the most obvious of which is probably the title track which, with it's gritty, gusty harmonica and lusty lyrics about a woman with a more-than-fine behind, sounds more like a lost Stax Records classic than what it actually is, an entirely new composition. The other song that sounds like it would have been right at home on Saadiq's previous album is the Chuck Berry-inspired tune "Radio," which serves as this album's first single, and is the most energetic track here.
Another song deserving of mention is "Good Man," a melancholy track about a hard-working, church-going provider who winds up in handcuffs and hauled off to jail after having the cops called on him by his woman. The song's depressing and all-to-real theme and haunting lyrics are a stark contrast to most the album's mostly upbeat and non-serious tone and has a cinematic quality to it.

Vintage Soul

© Columbia Records.
But maybe the best song on Stone Rollin' the one that doesn't appear in the track list. The final tune on the album isn't the 10th, "The Answer," a nice ode to growing up in a neighborhood where people look out for and after each other. No, the final song's a hidden track called "The Perfect Storm," and although the title isn't self-referential, the song lives up to it. On the track, Saadiq kicks things off singing about a woman who's sweet, in both the figurative and literal senses. "You told me you were comin' over Sunday to feed me my favorite meal -- that's you/But just one teaspoon, you fill me up, I'm so glad this love is really real." But after Saadiq's opening, the real surprise kicks in. Bassist and singer Larry Graham comes in, his deep, mature baritone contrasting with Saadiq's higher voice and serving as the only male voice besides Saadiq's on the entire album.
Overall, Stone Rollin' is a much different album than The Way I See It, but still manages to equal the earlier album in almost every way. Raphael clearly has this retro music thing down pat: this is a seamless album from top to bottom with no major flaws. In fact, complaining about anything on this release would just be nitpicking for the sake of it. It remains to be seen if Saadiq continues making albums that reach back to the sounds of the past but if he does, you'll get no complaints here, because his vintage Soul has been outstanding up to this point.
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