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Unlike relatively low-profile neo-soul jobbers Jay Dee or James Poyser, former Tony! Toni! Toné! mastermind Raphael Saadiq—who since 2000 has produced cuts for Bilal, Joi, and Angie Stone, as well as several nondairy creamers on Kelis's Tasty—makes no effort to downplay his studio-genius reputation. He begins All Hits at the House of Blues, his new live double disc, with a needling cod-prog fanfare that imagines what Yes would've sounded like had Trevor Horn owned his lonely heart a decade earlier; then, right as his enthusiastic L.A. audience gets its cheer on, Saadiq peels off a sleepy slow-hand solo, wondering how come Alicia Keys don't call him anymore.

But was he Tony!, Toni!, or Toné!?
photo: Will Blochinger
But was he Tony!, Toni!, or Toné!?

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Raphael Saadiq
All Hits at the House of Blues
(Pookie)

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But with a deep-ass songbook that his capable band opens up, that ostentation is Saadiq's prerogative—when he sprinkles a bucket of breakdown dust over "Still Ray," from 2002's Instant Vintage, there's no hope of killing the tune's redoubtable tuba line. And though "You," a gem from Saadiq's sadly short-lived r&b supertrio Lucy Pearl, suffers for the missing Snoop Dogg and Q-Tip cameos, the gentle friction between the singer's choirboy coo and the drummer's ride-cymbal pimp stroll offers thematic gristle for days. "You ain't too cool to sing," Saadiq promises his fans during "Faithful." Neither is he.

 
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