James Hunter, Sharon Jones, Eli "Paperboy" Reed, and Ryan Shaw have garnered cult followings of late for their takes on '60s soul, yet these singers' CDs have been too peripheral to the R&B mainstream to penetrate corporate-controlled urban radio. The trend continues to grow, however, and radio's resistance may finally fold in the face of such new major-label music as Solange Knowles' several salutes to the Supremes on her current hit debut album and the entirety of Raphael Saadiq's just-released The Way I See It.
As frontman of Oakland's Tony Toni Toné and later as producer of such artists as Maxwell, Alicia Keys, and Angie Stone, Saadiq was a principle architect of neo-soul, a genre that peppers contemporary R&B with old-school flavors. With his fourth solo CD, however, he has gone totally retro, playing loping James Jamerson-inspired bass lines and bouncing Benny Benjamin-like drum beats in homage to the Motown sound of the '60s, with side trips Chicago and Philadelphia. Saadiq also dubbed many of the guitar and keyboard parts, with onetime Motown tambourine ace Jack Ashford adding authenticity throughout and Stevie Wonder blowing harmonica on one track.
The hook-rich tunes sound as if they might have been penned by the likes of Smokey Robinson; Thom Bell; or Holland, Dozier, and Holland, yet Saadiq is the main writer of all twelve. His vocal tones are stronger than ever, particularly when he's crooning in a high tenor that brings Robinson or the Delfonics' William Hart to mind. And he plays the love-man role in duets with Joss Stone on the mid-tempo "Just One Kiss" and with Rocio Mendoza on a bilingual low-rider ballad titled "Calling." (Columbia)
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