Steve Wilson. On music.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Countdown Continues with No. 6, Raphael Saadiq

Continuing today, and culminating with REVERBERATIONS number one album of the year, we’ll be counting down the top twenty-five records of 2011. I’m referring to this countdown as Twenty-five Faves because I have no pretenses about telling you what’s “best.” Sure, I think my taste is better than yours. But nobody died and made me Lester Bangs. And Lester could be arrogant, but I kind of think he would come down on the favorite side of the fave/best dichotomy. His criticism was nothing if not personal. 

I've reviewed the majority of these selections. In the event that I have I'll simply recycle the original reviews, sometimes with a little new commentary. If it's a selection I haven't reviewed previously, I will dash off a new, brief, introductory review just for perspective.

25. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for my Halo (Matador)
24. Fountains of Wayne - Sky Full of Holes (Yep Roc)
23. Bass Drum of Death - GB City (Fat Possum)
22. Coathangers - Larceny and Old Lace (Suicide Squeeze)
21. Meg Baird - Seasons on Earth (Drag City)

  9. Jack Oblivian - Rat City (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum)
  8. Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer (Merge)
  7. New York Dolls - Dancing Backwards in High Heels (429 Records)
Here's a new (and long-ish) review of our No. 6 selection, Stone Rollin' from Raphael Saadiq, released on Columbia Records:

Reading the wealth of review material on Stone Rollin’, the 2011 release from Raphael Saadiq, I have been impressed by the ability of the contemporary critic to talk in complete circles. Saadiq’s work is categorized variously as new-soul, nu-soul, retro-soul – everything but soul. Well - it’s soul music, people. And let’s face it; most of these categories have more historical and marketing significance than musical. Soul itself was a nomenclature that spoke to a new generation of black artists and their audiences in the Sixties, and how they saw themselves. But there wasn’t one note of soul music that didn’t derive from what chart compilers and music merchants previously called rhythm and blues.

 The sad fact is that too much of the music found on the Urban (more tinkering with language - with vague, but miniscule cultural resonance) in the last twenty years has sounded like it was recorded by a lost generation who never heard Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin or hell, even the Ohio Players, but instead mysteriously ingested a cd-r of Roger Troutman’s complete exercises for Talk-Box. Talk-Box’s modern cousin the Auto-Tune has all but destroyed what’s left of contemporary chart music. It’s a wasteland. Oh it’s a wasteland dominated by black performers, but it’s a fool’s paradise – few of these performers build careers. They are pop fodder as surely as the plague of Bobbies (Vee, Rydell, etc.) was in the pre-Beatles landscape of Sixties pop music.

So, of course critics are stymied. Raphael Saadiq’s music derives from a long, strong continuum of black popular music. You can hear mythic strains of Fifties, Sixties and Seventies sounds – great black popular music, a music that built pride in the African-American community and entertained the whole damn world. Call it whatever you will.