Thanks to my father, I grew up in a strict Motown and soul household, regularly listening to Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, The Temptations, and Marvin Gaye. To this day this is the music I return to again and again, and I’m always happy to discover current artists who take those influences somewhere new.
When I found Raphael Saadiq’s forthcoming album Stone Rollin’ streaming in its entirety on NPR’s First Listen, I broke out dancing. It wasn’t a celebratory, yes-the-Lions-just-scored-a-touchdown kind of dance. No, the dancing began with the opening tambourine on the opening track of Stone Rollin’, and it did not stop until the album was over.
After falling in love with The Way I See It, Saadiq’s 2008 Grammy-nominated album, Stone Rollin’ does not disappoint. The Motown sound is alive and well on Stone Rollin’—even that opening tambourine is reminiscent of Motown session player and percussionist Bobby Hall.
Overall, there is a real 1960s feel to the album. The opening track “Heart Attack,” with its stomping beat, high energy, and backing vocals, could have been recorded by Sly and the Family Stone in 1968. Sly’s influence can also be heard on the title track, though “Stone Rollin’” is also reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ 1960s covers of old R&B songs, which suggests the title of the song (and the album) is no coincidence. [Those unfamiliar with Saadiq may recognize him from performing with Mick Jagger at this year’s Grammy Awards.]
Toward the end of the second track “Go To Hell,” a present-day gospel, the background singers repeat “Love will bring us together,” with Saadiq singing on top: “So many things / all over the world / from day to day / I don’t know what’s going on…somebody walk with me.” It’s an inclusive, optimistic song that evokes the Beatles “All You Need Is Love” in spirit, but in style and feeling it is closer to the socially conscious work of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. The influence of Gaye –and Curtis Mayfield– can be heard again on the album’s final track,“The Answer.”
While it is easy to spot its various influences—the Ray Charles style honky tonk piano on “Day Dreams,” the surf guitar on “Radio,” the bluesy harmonica on “Stone Rollin’,” or the Stevie Wonder influenced vocals on “Just Don’t”—this album isn’t simply a throwback. Saadiq is a student of music, but he combines these various influences, and adds his own touch to takes it somewhere new.
Stone Rollin’ comes in at only 37 minutes and 41 seconds, and though it has a range of styles from the incredibly danceable “Radio” to “Moving Down the Line,” which could fit in with the work Saadiq did with Tony! Toni! Toné! in the 1990s, the entire album is high energy, feel good music that should get anyone’s head bopping and feet moving.
Gina Myers is the author of A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009) and a regular contributor to Frontier Psychiatrist. Her last piece for the site, Optimism Against All Logic, was an essay on her native state of Michigan. She has a star marking Saginaw tattooed on the palm of her hand.