Retro soul revisited. 

From new-jack to neo-soul, from Tony Toni Toné to a solo career, Raphael Saadiq has been modern R&B's truest, most talented, least self-conscious link to glory days-tradition for nearly two decades. But he outdoes himself on this career-peak solo triumph — the best blend of modern and vintage R&B since Tony Toni Toné's 1996 swan song, House of Music.

With so much recent retro soul focused on funk and Southern grit, Saadiq's version is more in the tradition of early Motown and '60s Chicago soul like the Impressions, with little dabs of doo-wop and '70s Stevie Wonder tossed into the mix. This is a pristine, painstaking evocation of classic soul down to the handclap percussion, sleigh-bell downbeats, spoken interjections, and call-and-response exchanges. Saadiq's vocal style is smooth and urbane but strong — Smokey Robinson falsettos, Ben E. King-worthy phrasing, soaring Sam Cooke-style vocal flights. But what puts the whole package over the top is its consistently first-rate songwriting.

Saadiq's previous solo record was called Instant Vintage. He should have saved the title for this one. ("Sometimes," "Big Easy," "Keep' Marchin'")

— Chris Herrington

Grade: A


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