Raphael Saadiq, Celebrating Classic Soul Without Merely Aping It

Since no idea's original, it's all in the way you freak it. Late last year, Boyz II Men released a respectable Motown-remake album with a lousy title that only could've been worse if they'd added an exclamation point to it (Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA). But Raphael Saadiq sees that tribute and raises them something better: Rather than merely rehashing actual classics, the crooner/songwriter/producer/bassist does some neat paraphrasing and tries to write some new ones, offering his own slick approximations of the tender tunes that kept Black America bopping and grooving through the '60s. On The Way I See It, the similarities are uncanny enough to merit a DeLorean reference.

In his early days fronting such vintage-friendly acts as Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl, Saadiq crafted a solid soul foundation, which he builds upon here via retro revisions better suited for finger-snapping than clapping; reminiscing is easy, thanks to jukebox-worthy cuts like "Big Easy" and "100 Yard Dash" ("My heart is pumping but still running in place"). Raphael's juke joint is all horn stabs, tambourines, Temptations-inspired rhythms, doo-wop pathos, and patient pining-after ballads like "Oh Girl," "Callin'," and "Never Give You Up," for which Stevie Wonder dusts off the ol' harmonica. Even while Saadiq pays homage to soul's golden era, he brings his own flavor through his tell-tale tenor; still, if it ain't your cup of tea, just slip this in your parents' record collection and they won't notice a thing. In an era of sampling and synths, it's nice to see a musician who understands where the milk comes from.

 
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