Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Raphael Saadiq takes us back to the days when Berry Gordy was stuffing envelopes himself in that residential house in Detroit that he, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and others made into Hitsville, U.S.A. and solidified the notion that the Motor City would be Motown to everyone who ever listened to music. The carpets may have been a bit dirtier, the floors crunchy, the desks a mess and the people never happier, to be surrounded by what they loved. The white and royal blue painted home with an admirable front lawn and a porch enough for a couple swings was inconspicuously drab and standard from the outside (a good casserole or pot roast could have been assumed to have been in the oven at all times) and yet, inside the doors and through the halls, some of the most impressionable and massively successful R&B songs in history were being made by folks so impassioned by harmonies and melody that it was all they did. To have climbed up inside those heads - all of the heads in that place - during the late 50s and early 60s, on into the 70s, would have been to have heard the wheels a-turnin' trying to come up with another fascinating new way to tell an age old story about love's flightiness, about the impulse to want to be with a woman from across the room on first blush, or to ably attempt to tell your man that you'd always be faithful, but that you weren't about to be tossed around and abused like a chump. These were THE anthems for strong women and for men who were able to admit that they needed some lovin' and that it was going to be really nice all-around. They remain the anthems for these subjects, almost exhausting all of the classic ways of describing such things, they were snappy and well-constructed pieces of id and loins, as well as the kinds of sentiments that could make another person fall deeply in love with another. Through all of the Motown hits, there was an appreciation for the staggering power of love and attraction that, to this day, is as staggering and makes just as many people dumbstruck when it strikes. Saadiq, one of the founders of Toni! Tony! Tone!, has entrenched himself in the sound of Hitsville, bringing to mind all of the tunefulness and stylistic beauty of that golden era of rhythm and blues music. It is with his material and demeanor that Saadiq lays emphasis on the bouncy infatuations with getting a cute girl to turn his way and that pursuit of new love, the tough entanglements and difficulty without it ever sounding sad or down in the mouth. It brings to the forefront the thrill of that pursuit, the very thing that makes the action and the typically sudden appearance of it all the more spectacular and mysterious, that throws a cold sweat down and turns a person into a one-track mind, full of looking the best, dressing the part of the suitor and making the best impression. It glorifies when both misery and elation somehow share the stage with sunshine - when the odds and the ends of what might or might not be a lasting relationship are just coming into focus from a fictional dramatization. Saadiq brings us all of the reasons that music is moving and stirring, doing so with a timeless interpretation that would affect people in nearly any setting, under any circumstances and without any kind of set-up or pretext. He and his music are representative of people being people in the very essence of the idea - letting the blips and the flashes that scramble awake and consume for whatever duration they decide upon - and becoming whatever that very spark can influence. It's like being in love with love and finding it hard to be any other way.
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