You remember Tony! Toni! Tone! right? Though they had one of the worst names in the history of pop music, their new-jack sounds in the late '80s and early '90s set the standard for great vocals, dance and sexed-up image. I don't think their shirts even had functioning buttons. Their hits included "Anniversary," "Little Walter," and "Feels Good," all of which were big R&B, dance and pop hits. They were smooth, but they were also the epitome of the new soul sound - with highly produced vocals and beats and lots o' keyboards masking most traces of musicianship. It was smooth as a frozen coconut daiquiri, but pretty heavy on the sugar.
Tony! Toni! Tone! switched members around a little bit, but the lead vocalist and bass player was Charlie Ray Wiggins, known as Raphael Wiggins during his Toni years. When Tony! Toni! T... (good lord do I have to keep writing this name?) broke up in 1996, Wiggins changed his name to Raphael Saadiq and released a solo album of material pretty similar to TTT's style of new jack soul.
Saadiq's solo album was pretty successful, with one single hitting the R&B charts, but he started working more intensely on songwriting and producing acts, and began working with the likes of D'Angelo, The Isley Brothers, The Roots, Q-Tip, Mary J. Blige and even Snoop Dogg. He started his own record company in 2002, and most recently produced Joss Stone's latest LP.
Now he's got a new album, and it abandons the sugar of the '80s and '90s for the good hearty nourishment of late '60s and early '70s soul. With vocal nods to Marvin Gaye and Smoky Robinson, Saadiq even goes so far as to have Stevie Wonder sit in to play the harmonica on a great track called "Never Give You Up." Joss Stone guests on "Just One Kiss," and the ubiquitous Jay-Z is of course on a track as well. Surprise - Jay-Z is on a track!
That aside, this album is really pretty sweet. A great time-warp to the best of Motown and Philly soul, with a talented vocalist who has learned to cut down on all that sugar.
Andy Kline is program director at KXLL-FM radio in Juneau and music critic for the Hooligan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.