Raphael Saadiq wants to be Sly Stone. Or maybe it’s Chuck Berry. No, wait. I think it’s actually Holland Dozier Holland. For his fourth solo album Stone Rollin’ (a reference to shooting dice), the Oakland native unabashedly throws a myriad of yesteryear’s musical ingredients into his cauldron chocked full of jukebox goodies and northern soul stompers. Oddly enough, the stoic faces of the seemingly indifferent American Banstanders on the cover give no indication of the effervescent soul shakedown party going on inside.
Still trudging along valiantly in the aftermath of Amy Winehouse’s British throwback soul invasion, Saadiq seems to have hit his stride with this second consecutive collection of retro-tinged tunes. The funky opener “Heart Attack” hits like a ton of bricks from the houses that Levi Stubbs and Sylvester Stewart built. “Movin’ Down The Line,” a run-of-the-mill ode to a love unrequited, revels in the brass and string-laden glory of the legendary Motown backbeat. Saadiq really gets down on the good foot when he showcases his dynamite arrangement skills. For example, the majestic vamp on “Just Don’t” – featuring the indecipherable sweet nothings of Little Dragon’s own Yukimi Nagano – and the splendid background vocal stacks on “Go To Hell” – which owes a hefty debt to Tyrone Davis’ 1970 #1 hit “Turn Back The Hands Of Time” – are worth more than their weight in gold alone.
However, the record does skip in a few places: “Over You” feels more like an N*E*R*D jaunt than a sonic homage to a bygone era while the sock hop friendly “Radio” employs a rather incongruent and cliché metaphor about a girl whose “signal was low” and “wasn’t getting much sound.” But these minor hiccups do little to ruin the overall spirit of the album. The title track is sure to give many a blues fiend their juke joint jollies. And those who still remember what a hidden track is will be delighted upon hearing “The Perfect Storm,” a sleepy-eyed duet with Family Stone ex-pat and venerable bassist Larry Graham.
Clocking in at a concise 11 tracks, Stone Rollin’ trims the fatback and focuses on getting to the nitty gritty of the past. So well, in fact, maybe he should have reserved the title of his debut album Instant Vintage for this one. While it might sound more suitable for spins on a clunky, stereophonic hi-fi, this stone soul picnic is a breath of fresh air in the here and now amidst the throng of techno R&B androids scaling the charts.
-Rico a.k.a Superbizzee