Chicago Theatre; Thu 20, Fri 21
Given the resurgence of retro pop stars like Amy Winehouse and Duffy, it’s refreshing to see that the brightest of the bunch isn’t British. In fact, Mark Ronson’s name is nowhere to be found on The Way I See It (Columbia/Sony BMG), the new disc from California soul stylist Raphael Saadiq. Released in September, Saadiq’s third studio album is a convincing walk through the past, reaching back far further than the ’70s funk nostalgia of his 2002 solo debut, Instant Vintage, and 2004 follow-up, Ray Ray.
On his latest, Saadiq virtually raises the ghost of Motown’s Berry Gordy—the album is a trip. The refined R&B rhythms of tracks like “Love That Girl” and “Staying in Love” could easily be mistaken for long-lost classics from Hitsville U.S.A. The Kennedy-era groove’s a far cry from the New Jack Swing of Tony! Toni! Toné!, where Saadiq cut his teeth before establishing himself as a producer and session whiz. Aside from the short-lived supergroup Lucy Pearl (with En Vogue’s Dawn Robinson and A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad), Saadiq’s drawn the most attention for his work behind the scenes. The Oakland native, who won a Grammy for cowriting D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” has worked with everyone from the Bee Gees to this tour’s headliner, John Legend.
Though the executive-producer credit on The Way is cheesily listed as “You, the listener,” Saadiq’s clearly in charge, playing guitar, bass and drums on the majority of the album. The man’s done his research, calling on master tambourine player Jack Ashford of the legendary Funk Brothers, who lays into his signature funky shuffle over the stiff backbeat of one of the album’s strongest tracks, “100 Yard Dash.” Stevie Wonder even drops in for a harmonica solo on “Never Give You Up.” There’s no question that Saadiq’s tapped into a winning formula reviving late-’60s soul, but he’s spun the results into something both contemporary and compelling.