Album review: Raphael Saadiq, “Stone Rollin’” (Columbia)

June 6, 2011

Forty-five-year-old Oakland-born soul man Raphael Wiggins never has made any attempt to hide his distaste for the hollowness of a lot of modern R&B and his devotion to the sounds of the past—his second album with Tony! Toni! Tone! was, after all, called “The Revival”—but his mining of the canon has been even more pronounced than on his solo career for Columbia. In lesser hands, this could be an annoying retro throwback shtick a la Lenny Kravitz, but the artist better known as Raphael Saadiq has the taste, talent, and chops to transcend the deadly trap of nostalgia for an era he barely experienced, achieving instead a sort of blissful transcendence of time and space. And he never has sounded better than he does on “Stone Rollin’.”

There is a little less Motown gloss this time around and a little more rock grit in Saadiq’s grooves, heavy on the Sly Stone (witness the opening “Heart Attack”), late ’50s/early ’60s Isley Brothers (the joyful “Radio”), and Ray Charles (“Day Dreams”), to say nothing of the skillful use of Mellotron orchestrations as a connecting thread throughout the disc, sort of like the Moody Blues suddenly finding the funk (witness the epic grandeur of the album closer “The Answer”). As usual, Saadiq plays most of the instruments himself, but he turns to some top-drawer talents for a few valuable contributions, including keys by Larry Dunn of Earth, Wind & Fire (his solos steal the show on “Just Don’t”) and pedal steel guitar by Robert Randolph (“Day Dreams”).

Also, as usual, Saadiq’s rather thin and reedy voice is the weakest link. But the quality of the songwriting and the irresistible tug of the arrangements more than make up for any vocal shortcomings, and “Stone Rollin’” ultimately stands as a stone cold gas of a party disc.

On the four-star scale: 3.5 STARS

STILL IN HEAVY ROTATION

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Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues” (Sub Pop)

Beastie Boys, “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” (Capitol)

tUnE-yArDs, “WHOKILL” (4AD)

Gorillaz, “The Fall” (Virgin)

Clive Tanaka, “Jet Set Siempre No. 1”

The Feelies, “Here Before” (Bar None)

TV on the Radio, “Nine Types of Light” (Interscope)

Lykke Li, “Wounded Rhymes” (Atlantic)

Screeching Weasel, “First World Manifesto” (Fat Wreck Chords)

Lupe Fiasco, “Lasers” (Atlantic)

Lucinda Williams, “Blessed” (Lost Highway)

Radiohead, “The King of Limbs” (self-released)

Drive-By Truckers, “Go-Go Boots” (ATO)

North Mississippi Allstars, “Keys to the Kingdom” (Songs of the South)

Smith Westerns, “Dye It Blonde” (Fat Possum)

The Decemberists, “The King Is Dead” (Capitol)