“I can see my name written across the sky,” Raphael Saadiq sings on “Go To Hell,” from his stunning new album, Stone Rollin’, as a B3 organ swells, cymbals dance, and a fluttering string section spirals towards the heavens. “Victory is near… I can feel it getting closer, closer every day.”
Since Saadiq’s early days with the groundbreaking 80’s soul trio Tony! Toni! Tone! the Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter and record producer has carried the torch for old school R&B. In addition to releasing critically acclaimed solo albums like Ray Ray and Instant Vintage (nominated for five GRAMMYs), for the last two decades Saadiq has worked behind the scenes as a celebrated producer, collaborator and sideman for big-time acts like D’Angelo, John Legend, Joss Stone, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Stevie Wonder, the Bee Gees, The Isley Brothers, Mary J. Blige, TLC, Whitney Houston, Snoop Dogg, Earth, Wind and Fire and the list goes on and on. Now, at the peak of his creativity, Saadiq is finally ready to soak up the spotlight alone with Stone Rollin’.
A few years ago Saadiq signed a deal with Columbia Records. “When I first got the deal with Columbia they knew I had produced some records, but they didn’t know me as a solo act,” he explains. But when label guru Rick Rubin paid a visit to Saadiq’s home studio, he was blown away by what he’d heard. “He told me to never box myself in,” says Saadiq. “I just have to be myself. You’ve got to follow your own path. I’ve always gone down the road less traveled, but now I do it even more aggressively.” His instincts have paid dividends. Saadiq’s debut album for Columbia, 2008’s The Way I See It, which boasted four Billboard R&B chart singles and was nominated for three GRAMMY Awards including Best R&B Album. “It’s definitely surprised me how far things have come,” he says.
Stone Rollin’ – written and produced by Saadiq, who also plays bass, mellotron, keys, guitar, percussion and even drums on most of the tracks — is even more powerful, urgent and bold than it’s predecessor. The new songs are firmly planted in classic R&B, and nod to Saadiq’s heroes like Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Little Walter and Sly Stone. However Saadiq offers his own contemporary spin, one born out of a combination of his recent touring experiences, as well as inspiration derived from indie acts that hold regular rotation in his ipod.”I still want to be a throwback artist, but with a futuristic twist,” he says.
After a memorable powwow with Rick Rubin, Saadiq felt emboldened, vowing to pursue his solo work with no compromises. This is the reason, he feels, why The Way I See It struck such a universal chord. With that album’s release, Raphael Saadiq truly made his mark as a touring artist. Fans, new and old, came in droves to see Saadiq perform at festival shows throughout Europe and the States — including Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza, South By Southwest and Voodoo Experience, and a recent opening slot on the Dave Matthews Band’s amphitheater tour.
Stone Rollin’ was born on the road, and recorded at his studio complex the Blakeslee Recording Company in Los Angeles, just around the corner from the Hollywood Bowl. “I damn near live in that studio,” he says. Saadiq wrote the stomping opening track, “Heart Attack” while in France, inspired by Sly Stone jams like “Dance To the Music” and “M’Lady” (Saadiq also grew up in the East Bay, where the Family Stone was born.) “I wanted the album to start out with that sense of urgency, that global soul and rock & roll feel,” he says. “After having so much fun out there touring, I really wanted to make an album that I could go out there and play.” Stone Rollin’ continues with the stunning standout track, “Go To Hell,” featuring his studio squad of musicians who are melodically complimented by an angelic choir intoning the mantra, “Let Love Keep Us Together,” and a vocal ad-lib by Saadiq that recalls Seventies Stevie Wonder. “I’m just screaming my feelings,” says Saadiq.
Stone Rollin’ does feature it’s share of special guests. Robert Randolph dropped by Blakeslee to lay down some nasty steel guitar on “Day Dreams.” Saadiq opens the track — evocative of a Dixieland rag. Also guesting on “Just Don’t” is one of Saadiq indie rock favorites, Swedish-Japanese singer Yukimi Nagano, from the band Little Dragon. “She put some great vocals on top,” he says. “On that song I also had the chance to play with one of my idols, Larry Dunn from Earth, Wind and Fire. He played piano and took a long, epic Moog solo. That’s why the song is so long, because I wanted to give him the space and the respect on my record that he truly deserves.”
Saadiq had Chuck Berry’s feel-good rock & roll on his mind when he wrote “Radio.” “I always wanted to do something like Chuck,” says Saadiq. Another standout track on the collection is “Good Man,” which brilliantly blends golden age Soul with a killer hip-hop hook, co-written and sung by upstart Taura Stinson.
“I’m going to have a great time playing this album live,” says Saadiq. Until then, he’s spending every day in preparation. After he wakes up in the morning he bikes down to the local high school for some sprints around the track. “To get my wind up, ready for the tour.”
“I don’t know where the title Stone Rollin’ came from,” says Saadiq. “It just came out of my mouth one day, but it just made sense with where I’m at right now. I feel like I’m stone rollin’, like I’m ready to rock. I’m ready to go. Throw me anywhere and I’ll make it happen. I feel really good about this album.”