There has been a recent resurgence of soul music that tries to remind us of a time long since forgotten. Amy Winehouse released a doo-wop inspired album almost three years ago that went back to a soul singer of the 1960s. Another British artist, Adele, has just recently released her blueyed soulful debut, 19–an album that received positive feedback and even featured a cover of Sam Cooke’s “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Moving On” as a bonus track. A new up and comer Ryan Shaw came out with his debut album This is Ryan Shaw, which features wonderful R&B and soul covers of Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson. Raphael Saadiq however, has taken the quintessential parts of soul and R&B and throws them in a time machine destined for the 1960s. This is Raphael’s 4th studio album, and while all of his previous efforts were undoubtedly filled with soul, The Way I See It could quite possibly be the crowning achievement of a era that needed to come back.
In explaining about the making and production of the album, Raphael speaks about listening to the likes of Gladys Knight & the Pips, Al Green and The Four Tops to gain not only structural direction, but also to conjure up feelings of soul harmonies like the love ballad. His inspiration transcends time and space, while even looking to artists like Spike Lee and his documentary When the Levees Broke to create tunes like “Big Easy.”
Saadiq is really like a Smokey Robinson, a Marvin Gaye and a Sam Cooke all poured into the same paint bucket and then spread across a canvas. This album is a time piece, which is something very few artists dare to do. It’s not just a retro-throwback to Motown or an homage to the jazz and soul artists of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s– it’s a compilation where Raphael takes his cues from the masters of the genre, but it’s what he gives back that makes him a master in his own rite.
The first track off the album is “Sure Hope You Mean It,” a song that sets the tone for the album with a rhythm and sound similar to Gladys Knight & the Pips take on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The following track “100 Yard Dash” elicits some of the best music composition of the album–it’s also probably the most modern-sounding track although there is still a solid oldies influence–I would have to say this tune is the most unique and consequently the best on the album.
The album showcases several hits, including “Just One Kiss,” which sounds like a youthful Al Green in his prime; it’s music that just feels good. It was like entering a time warp only to come out to Mr. Green performing a rendition of “Let’s Stay Together.” And the fact that Joss Stone makes an appearance here shows that Saadiq knows where to place his vocals. Reminiscent of the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell duo, it makes me think–had Tammy not left us too soon, this is the duet they would’ve created.
“Never Gonna Give You Up” features an amazing Stevie Wonder on harmonica and CJ Hilton, where you hear what sounds like something between Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover” and “I Want You,” and of course there’s Stevie. “Oh Girl” is one of the slower soul jams, and there’s also a remix where Raphael departs from the old school vintage and brings in a taste of neo-retro fusion with a guest appearance from Hov (Jay-Z if you didn’t know) who serves up some lyrical wordplay as usual.
This album is a standout because of it’s simplicity and fun, adding curb appeal, but its arrangements and production are so much more. Saadiq was asked what his feelings were on the neo-soul artist and the fact that he was going retro soul, to which he responded “I just think, who wants new soul? I want my soul to be the same as Otis Redding, I don’t wanna have a new one.” On one of my favorite tracks, “Staying in Love,” he encompasses feelings of love both in relationships and with music–“falling in love can be easy.” With The Way I See It, it’s that easy, so go on and check it out if you haven’t already.
Buy The Way I See It – Raphael Saadiq
There are two bonus tracks – “Kelly Ray” and “Seven”–both put a nice icing on the cake.
Bonus Tracks – Kelly Ray