What do you get when you mix street corner doo-wop with a touch of Bill Withers’ melancholy romance and sprinkle in some of The Five Heartbeats harmony? Well, Raphael Saadiq’s new album, of course. A small group of supporters, journalists and industry folk gathered at the Sony Club in NYC to preview the vintage 1960s soul album. The feel-good, throwback music seems to emanate from Saadiq’s own humble, mellow spirit. Prepped out in his highwaters and cabbie hat and surrounded by friends, some luminaries in their own right (Nelson George, Q-Tip, Pharoahe Monch and Nile Rodgers), Saadiq entertained questions in the intimate setting and proceeded to mingle with everyone throughout the evening.
Oozing with lush arrangements, the guests swayed romantically at times, then twisted from side-to-side as if at some sock hop the next. But this was no accident. He recorded on vintage guitars, drum kits (all of which he played himself, according to one Columbia Records employee) and mics to properly capture the feeling of the era. You couldn’t help but feel like you had snuck into the den during one of your parents’ ‘grown-ups only’ parties, all that was missing were some elk antlers hanging on the wood panels. Saadiq so perfectly captured the Motown sound that people were tentative to question the distinctive harmonica from a song halfway through the album.
“Was that Stevie I heard on harmonica?” one guest asked.
Indeed it was. The collective giddiness was hard to hide and even Saadiq was still floored by the collaboration.
“I’m still not used to having Stevie as a friend.”
After 20-year old singer C.J., who is one of the few guests to appear on the album, brought Saadiq the track, he threw an introduction for Mr. Wonder’s harmonica solo on his verse, though Saadiq wasn’t even sure they’d be able to get him on the phone. Thankfully for us, things worked out and the combination of these old souls is magical.
Though the tracklisting and song titles are all still in flux, Saadiq’s personal favs are “Sometimes” and “Ol’ Girl” because of the way he said, “People get loose on that one.” “Sometimes” holds a special place to him because of the line he sings, “Now I know what they meant by ‘keep your head to the sky.’” Growing up in a tough Oakland neighborhood, he had to keep his head off the things around him and instead immersed himself in Earth, Wind & Fire and the music of James Jamerson, who Saadiq credits with inspiring the sound of the bass on his album. With his head to the past, it sounds like Saadiq is about to drop another inspiring album of his own.
- Candace L.