The Musicorium

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Posts Tagged ‘raphael saadiq’

Keep Putting Soul Up

Posted by SP on March 5, 2010

Spring is in the air…kind of…anyway it’s time to start emerging from the cocoon of seasonal affective disorder.  For that the doctor orders soul music.

First up is Raphael Saadiq’s The Way I See It–one of those few records that actually lives up to its hype.  Those with a little gray in their hair like me might remember him from 80s/90s pop group Tony! Toni! Toné!  Since then he’s been a producing force behind the neo-soul movement that’s better known these days by the records of Joss Stone and John Legend.  Basically, the guy is everywhere, so I’ll cut his story short.  Google him and be amazed at how consistently he’s produced good records for artists who actually have chops.

The Way I See ItThe Way I See It is a solid effort in the classic Motown tradition.  None of the songs are that deep (except for Big Easy, about the anxiety of a man for his missing girlfriend), and that’s a good thing.  In the fantastic documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, about the now deservedly famous Funk Brothers, the backing band for virtually every recognizable Motown song, Ben Harper is interviewed about the effect the music had on him as a child.  He notes the essential positivity and hopefulness that the music has within its upbeat rhythms and arrangements as its biggest influence, and I’m inclined to agree.  Too much message kills this music (unless you are Curtis Mayfield or Marvin Gaye).  So I give Saadiq props for keeping it thematically simple while surrounding himself with a crew of first rate musicians whose performances are so tight and in the pocket that they could easily be mistaken for the Funk Brothers themselves.  It’s beautifully recorded too.  It just sounds great.  Put this record on, dance, and give the dregs of winter the middle finger.

100 Days, 100 NightsNext up is the latest effort from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.  If Saadiq and his crew are carrying the Motown torch, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are carrying the flame for the Memphis sound.  While Saadiq is the consummate musical professional, Sharon Jones maybe has the better story.  For most of her life she did not sing professionally at all, and was working as a prison guard at Riker’s Island when she got her break at the age of 40 as a backing vocalist for Lee Fields.  There’s something of that toughness lingering in the sound of her vocals.  Sharon Jones sounds like she could probably kick your ass.  It’s a perfect voice for the slightly rougher style of soul music that she and the Dap Kings play, ranging from classic pissed-off girl of a cheatin’ man to wise older sister to dedicated lover. Think Etta James with just a little more roughness in the voice.

As good as she is, though, the Dap Kings are easily her match.  These guys are on fire on every track–classic big band Memphis soul with lots of horns and the same distinctive guitar sound that you hear on old Otis Reading and Sam and Dave tracks.  It’s not as polished or produced as Saadiq’s sound, but that’s for a good reason.  The Dap Kings are period people, and use as much of the instrumentation and recording technology of the late 60s and 70s as they can get away with.  That’s good though.  Their records sound real in a way that few do anymore. You also get a sense of how good these guys are live.  Though I’ve not had the pleasure myself I’ve never heard anyone who has say that they did not absolutely burn the stage down.  Makes sense.

The Dap Kings have their own record label: DapTone Records.  The motto is “Keep Putting Soul Up”.   Sounds about right to me.  Happy Spring everybody.


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