Tony Toni Toné
Reviewed on this page:
The Revival - Sons Of Soul - House Of Music -
Eyes Never Lie
The three key members of Tony Toni Toné - lead singer Rafael Wiggins, brother D'wayne Wiggins, and Timothy Christian
Riley - are self-consciously retro R&B stylists: they even called their second album The Revival. That record
was New Jack Swing (another name for Jackson Five-style vocals on top of hip hop beats), but they
soon transcended that category by incorporating a range of other soul and R&B influences, dispensing with samples, and playing
most of the instrumental tracks themselves. After diminishing popularity and a bloated 1996 release, the group broke up.
Tony Toni Toné never had a brilliant singer or instrumental soloist, and
had a tendency to stretch out thin material into seven minute extravaganzas, but also had a deft touch with mood and melody,
and worked hard to inject a modern sensibility into musical forms that had fallen by the wayside.
Raphael Saadiq has formed another group, Lucy Pearl, with En Vogue's Dawn
Robinson and A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad; D'wayne soon came back with a solo album.
Timothy Christian Riley, keyboards, drums; D'wayne Wiggins, guitar, vocals; Rafael Wiggins
(later Rafael Saadiq), bass, guitar, keyboards, most lead vocals. The first record also credited Elijah Baker,
Carl Wheeler and Antron Haile as band members, but I don't know what they did.
The hit was "Little Walter," a rewrite of "Wade In The Water." (DBW)
The Revival (1990)
Much more on the hip hop side of things than the group's later releases - nearly every song is based on a simple drum
loop and keyboard hook (sampled or original) plus vocals. The group already had a penchant for five- and six-minute
songs, but without live instruments or shifting arrangements, it can get quite dull ("All My Love"). Many of the songs
aren't much to start with, just forced party-hearty anthems ("Let's Have A Good Time"). However, there are a lot of
memorable melodies here, both catchy uptempo pop ("Feel Good," "The Blues") and moving love songs ("I Care").
The disc opens and closes with guest raps from Mocedes ("Feels Good" and "Those Were The Days"), and Vanessa Williams
adds vocals to "Oakland Stroke." Three tracks were masterminded by Thomas McElroy and
Denzil Foster including the dull, obvious "Skin Tight" (no relation to the Ohio Players
tune); the rest were written and produced by the band.
Sons Of Soul (1993)
They mostly leave New Jack Swing behind (aside from the touching ballad
"Leavin'"), and it's generally an improvement: "Slow Wine"
lovingly blends in Stax guitars and strings; the SNL Horns with Lenny Pickett turn up on "If I Had
No Loot," and horns are heard on other tracks as well ("Gangsta
Groove"). They're perfectly comfortable paying homage to soulsters past
("(Lay Your Head On My) Pillow"), but can't be reduced to a retro act,
because their out-of-left-field collage approach to production is pure
hip hop. And since they write and play the music themselves - there are
samples here, but they're never the focus - it never gets as derivative
or obvious as Teddy Riley on a bad day.
Not every track is a winner ("Tonyies! In The Wrong Key"), and
the romantic centerpiece "Anniversary" doesn't justify its nine-minute
running time, but this is a solid value.
House Of Music (1996)
Some consider this the group's high point, but I can't agree. By now the group had splintered, and most tracks were written
and produced by Saadiq or by Wiggins and Riley (the opening "Thinking Of You" is the only song written and produced by the
full group). The end result is diffuse and often dull, without the attention to detail, freshness or humor of the previous
release, and the long running times (five minutes is the average) only exacerbate the problem.
The retro influences sometimes seem like a crutch instead of an inspiration: the ballad "Lovin' You" is just a
ripoff of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Can't Hide Love." Worse, some tunes are too simple to follow
the conventions of any genre, with nothing but slow-moving keyboard washes over programmed drums (Saadiq's endless
"Still A Man"). Still, there are some fine tunes like "Annie May," with a thumping groove, a 70s horn arrangement, and
melding high vocal harmonies, and Saadiq's lovely ballad "Let Me Know." (DBW)
In early 2000, Saadiq appeared on D'Angelo's much-hyped Voodoo.
Eyes Never Lie (Dwayne Wiggins: 2000)
Dwayne (note changed spelling) Wiggins dedicates much of his solo debut to displaying his hollow-body guitar technique, from the instrumental "Tribecca" to the romantic
falsetto showcase "Let's Make A Baby," and it's indeed impressive. But there's not enough else going on here: he leans heavily on oldies
- the sharply satirical "R & B Singer" is based on Earth, Wind & Fire's "Devotion"; "Music Is Power" is a
rewrite of Larry Graham's "Hair" - many of the songs run much too long ("Pushin' On," just a
Bootsy Collins sample repeated endlessly), and even the tunes he did write sound somehow familiar (title track).
The lyrics are either seductions ("Don't Sleep," "Flower") or vague social statements ("What's Really Going On (Strange Fruit)," present
in two versions).
All told, the album has the feel of an overgrown EP: a couple of fun numbers like "Rollin' Mountain" don't make up for all the sluggish
love songs. Guests include Najee, Darius Rucker (of Hootie & The Blowfish) and The Roots;
Riley adds keyboards to "Move With Me," which also features trademark guitar from Carlos Santana.
Instant Vintage (Raphael Saadiq: 2002)
I have to admit, I've lost 90% of my enthusiasm for neo-soul, and 95% of my enthusiasm for Saadiq.
The Way I See It (Raphael Saadiq: 2008)
By this point, Saadiq had moved from neo-soul to retro-soul, and this disc (which I listened to once, an experience I'm in no hurry to repeat) consists solely of unimpressive Motown ripoffs.
Stevie Wonder plays harmonica on "Never Give You Up."