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Raphael Saadiq

Stone Rollin'

(Columbia; US: 11 May 2011; UK: 4 Apr 2011)

Papa Was a Stone Rollin'

Microbiologists create recombinant DNA by combining genetic sequences with special traits that may complement each other, but do not naturally occur together, to create a new and improved product. Raphael Saadiq performs an analogous task with his musical compositions. He connects tropes and strophes from classic soul and Motown to make original music that would cause its most celebrated inspirations (such as Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder) to beam with pride. Saadiq not only wrote and produced his latest solo disc, Stone Rollin’, but also sings lead and plays bass, mellotron, keys, guitar, percussion, and even drums on most of the tracks.


Saadiq knows how to have fun in the studio and when to be serious. The topics of his songs range from freaky girls who lick your chest and undress to the problems of inner city youth, and the lack of role models to meeting the devil in the afterlife and just about everywhere in between. While it might seem like the record is all over the place, the exact opposite is true. Saadiq’s multi-talented presence personalizes each song so they seem connected as just the many aspects of one man’s existence and experience. His music offers a rich and deep connection to the world, while maintaining a sense of fun about the whole thing: Living sure beats dying. Let’s dance, our bodies are a good thing, and try to help each other out. Life can be hard.


So turn this record up loud. It’s meant to be played at maximum volume. And don’t be afraid to move to it. Nobody’s looking at you anyway, and if they are, maybe they are just looking for a dance partner, too. And keep on thinking. These lyrics may make you laugh, but they will also make you reflect on your life, those you love, the places that you inhabit and visit.


Or maybe the material will just make you want to have “Day Dreams”, as he sings about on one of the most frenzied songs on the record. Saadiq croons about the pleasure of buying something he can’t afford because sometimes it’s important just to reject reality. Or maybe he will make you think about having sex, which he does on the funky title track when confronted by a certain scrumptious woman. It doesn’t matter. Saadiq jumps from topic to topic, and sometimes, such as on “Good Man”, which deals with a relationship gone wrong and getting arrested without ever explaining the scene, it’s unclear what exactly he’s talking about. The song is still compelling, like when you change the channels on the TV set and get caught up in a movie—even though you don’t know how it started, you have to see it through to the end. 


Stone Rollin’ shows off Saadiq’s genius as a singer, writer, instrumentalist, and producer of modern rhythm and blues that pays homage to its traditions. He evokes the past masters and brings the listener right up to the here and now on each of the 10 songs. There does not seem to be a false step or even a dull note on the record.

Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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