"Raphael Saadiq as Ray Ray"
The new album, "Raphael Saadiq as Ray Ray," is presented as if Saadiq were playing the title role in a movie; the CD even comes with its own theme song and the audio equivalent of a coming-attractions trailer. But Saadiq never really follows through on his promise to tell a cohesive story, not the way Prince Paul has on his recent concept albums. "Ray Ray" is just a collection of disconnected songs, all starring Saadiq's charming, womanizing alter ego, but failing to establish a narrative.
But what terrific songs they are. Saadiq, the key creative figure in both Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl, has a rare gift for linking seductive melodies to slinky grooves. He is obviously well schooled in the old-school virtues of such soul masters as Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, but he's of the hip-hop generation and his tracks boast a modern, clutter-free leanness -- programmed beats and bass lines with just a few splashes of color from other instruments.
Saadiq turns in near-perfect imitations of Prince on "I Know Shuggie Otis" and of Stevie Wonder on "I Love Her," but he establishes his own musical identity on "Live Without You" and "I Want You Back." The latter two are pleas to an ex-lover to come home; both boast sweet, romantic crooning over a low-and-dirty funk groove. Saadiq makes an unfortunate choice in metaphors in updating Cupid's arrow to "Rifle Love" for the first single. He's more socially responsible on "Grown Folks," which summons up the ghost of Curtis Mayfield, not only in the high-tenor vocal and Latin-tinged arrangement but also in its lyric, which upends the conventional wisdom by claiming that today's adults need even more help than the children.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Monday at the Funk Box and Wednesday at the Birchmere. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Raphael Saadiq, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8124. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)