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Raphael Saadiq - "The Way I See It"

Moving Forward, Backwards

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Raphael Saadiq -
Image © Sony Records.
Raphael Saadiq has had a long and distinguished career in the world of music. From his beginnings in the 1980s as a member of the groundbreaking neo-soul trio Tony! Toni! Toné! to his work in the 1990s with the supergroup Lucy Pearl to his successes throughout this decade as a producer, singer and songwriter for himself and others, Saadiq has become something of a legend, albeit an underappreciated one. And on his latest solo album, The Way I See It, Saadiq adds a brilliant new chapter to his storied career. The album, released in the U.S. on Sept. 16, 2008, is easily one of 2008's best releases.

A Thrilling Album

The Way I See It is basically Raphael Saadiq's love letter to the R&B and Soul music of the 1950s, '60s and early '70s, specifically the gritty Motown and Stax Records styles. The album's 13 tracks are all-new songs, but have a very vintage, throwback sound to them. Ever since Amy Winehouse's Back To Black became a massive international hit, retro-Soul has become trendy, but on this album Saadiq shows that he's not just cashing in on a trend. Every song, from top to bottom shows a deep, true meaning and understanding of what true, classic Soul and R&B are.

Perhaps the best example of this is the second track, "100 Yard Dash," a two-minute, 18-second ditty about a man who's completely twisted over a honey-sweet woman. If you didn't already know the song was brand-new, you'd swear it was about 50 years old. Saadiq is that good at emulating the sound of that era that each song sounds like an authentic piece of music from the past, instead of just like someone who's trying to imitate. It's obvious that a lot of love, thought and planning went into the construction and production of the songs. Instead of using computers and synthesizers, Saadiq went all-out and got actual musicians - horn players, guitarists, pianists, etc. - in addition to himself, to play in the studio. Their presence gives the songs more life and vibrancy than they otherwise would have. And Saadiq himself is on-point vocally and sounds renewed by this project. Some of his previous post-Tony! Toni! Toné! work was pleasant but ultimately forgettable. This, however, is a thrilling neo-classic album.

A Loving Tribute

Image © Sony Records.
Among the other standout tracks are "Just One Kiss," a sexy, upbeat duet between Saadiq and British Soul singer Joss Stone; "Love That Girl," a track that bears a strong musical resemblance to Mary Wells' 1964 classic "My Guy;" and "Never Give You Up," which features Saadiq's protege, a young male singer named CJ Hilton, plus some nice harmonica work by the legendary Stevie Wonder. Also deserving special mention is "Oh Girl," which sounds like a perfect replica of something that The Stylistics or Smokey Robinson & The Miracles might have recorded back in the day; and "Let's Take A Walk," a very direct, lust-filled track about sex that's not at all obscene but probably would have been considered shocking back in the '60s.

Although there are no bad songs on the album, there are two that for various reasons don't work as well as the other 11 tracks. One is "Calling," which combines Spanish vocals and Latin guitar with a 1950s doo-wop sound. The result isn't awful, but isn't exactly brilliant, either. The other semi-misfire is a remix of "Oh Girl" that features Jay-Z. The usually on-point rapper completely ruins the song by proving a half-rapped, semi-sung intro that totally massacres the beat, and not in a good way.

So overall, this album is a lovingly crafted, excellently executed tribute to the men and women who paved the way for contemporary Soul and R&B. Anyone who's a fan of such classic artists as Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway, should likely enjoy and appreciate this loving tribute to the era when they were at their creative and commercial peaks.

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