Raphael Saadiq Instant Vintage

Few would dispute the status of Raphael Saadiq as a producer, arranger and musician, but peculiarly, this is his first attempt to put his stamp of authority on his own definitive project. For over a decade, he's been known of in a collaborative sense, whether it was as a member of his two dissolved groups, Tony! Toni! Tone! or Lucy Pearl, or through his production work with D'Angelo and A Tribe Called Quest, among many others. Naming his first solo album Instant Vintage and branding his sound "gospeldelic" won't win him any points for humility or modesty, but thankfully an inflated sense of self-importance doesn't impact enjoying this hugely appealing album. It's evident that Saadiq puts a lot of work into crafting the melodies and arrangements of his songs, as they're furnished with exemplary and layered instrumentation. Saadiq has never relied on plying a tired lover-man shtick or a thugged-out approach; his strength lies in wedding his distinctive falsetto and fine guitar work to a deep-rooted knowledge and proficiency of soul, funk and hip-hop. His lyrics have always been a weak point in his armour, but entries like "You're The One That I Like," a wrenching confrontation with a friend's drug addiction, improves his stock in this department. He also revels in using voices contrasting his own, and outside help and appearances from D'Angelo and Angie Stone, among others, help to shore up any other shortcomings. But it's "Skyy Can You Feel Me" that proves to be the album's high point. The piece begins as a simple yet catchy exchange between Saadiq and vocalist Rosie Kaye, which gradually builds to a beguiling crescendo on an orchestral arrangement by Toronto-based producer Doc. It's seemingly effortless moments like these that make you wonder if the multi-talented Saadiq is on autopilot, at times. As it stands, this isn't the masterpiece that you feel he's capable of, but it's still a very impressive addition to his body of work. (Universal)