Raphael Saadiq 

Instant Vintage

In the five years since he split as lead singer of Tony Toni Toné, the Oakland-born, Sacramento-based Raphael Saadiq has written and produced hits for D'Angelo, Total, and Angie Stone, and spearheaded the supergroup Lucy Pearl. He has also lent his touch to album tracks by Macy Gray, Whitney Houston, Snoop Dogg, the Isley Brothers, and the Bee Gees.

But now the onetime Sheila E bassist has taken a little time out for himself. Saadiq's debut solo album transcends the neo-soul style he played such an important role in sculpting. He's still breaking R&B conventions, but he never strays far from the blues and gospel roots of his distinctively loping Oakland funk sound. The result is an aural masterpiece at once innovative and radio-friendly. A tuba turns up from time to time, adding emphasis to the delayed bass patterns that have been his signature. On some selections, he creates subtly warped textures by taking vocal and string tracks, pressing them to vinyl, then scratching them into the final mix, with help from his Dogtown-based coproducers Jake and the Phatman.

Guests include D'Angelo, Angie Stone, T-Boz of TLC, and gospel guitar great Eddie "Spanky" Alfred, but the focus is on Saadiq's sweetly melodic songs, his thin yet inviting tenor voice, and bass and guitar prowess. He uses his reedy tones with especially urgent force on "People, " a Temptations-inspired ode about the contradictions of life in the ghetto. Shades of the late Johnny "Guitar" Watson turn up on "Charlie Ray," a bluesy salute to Saadiq's dad, while other tracks reflect the gospel quartet tradition at the core of the singer's aesthetic. He calls his music "gospeldelic," and with Instant Vintage, Saadiq brings the past, present, and future of R&B into clear -- and glorious -- focus.

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