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The Sound of Oakland, the Antidote to Bieber

People don't often think that Oakland has a distinct musical sound like Detroit (Motown), Philadelphia (The Sound of Philadelphia Records, Gamble & Huff), Mississippi (Malaco Records), and Memphis (Stax Records, Otis Redding, Al Green). But it does. Problem is, when people ask me what that sound is, I often have trouble describing it off the top of my head with one group. It really is a melange of things -- a tight horn section (Tower of Power), a jazzy smooth vibe (Ledisi and Goapele), the relaxed delivery of one rapper (Too Short), the comic delivery of a small group of others (Digital Underground), the throaty delivery of a tough chick who's been through some stuff (Keyshia Cole). It is all these things

In other words, it's Tony!Toni!Tone!.

I had the pleasure of hearing the Tonys, sans Raphael Saadiq, last week in Sacramento. I was thinking I wouldn't like them as much since Saadiq left the group, but lo and behold, Amar Khalil, their new front man who sings just like Saadiq, left me feeling like I didn't miss a thing (Sorry, Raphael, but the brother can sang!). They performed all their hits, had me dancing in the aisle, and, despite the piss-poor sound system, put on one of the best concerts I'd been to in years. What you hear in this group is the fact that they are top-flight students of soul, making the title of their third CD, Sons of Soul, appropriate. Thinkin' of You incorporates the Memphis sound of Al Green. Wild Child incorporates the Tower of Power tight horns with a soulful interpretation. The Blues is a nod to funk. Feels Good is just straight-up New Jack Swing. Anniversary, It Never Rains (In Southern California), and Whatever You Want incorporate a jazzy smooth Quiet Storm vibe reminiscent of KBLX waaay back in the day. You name any variation on soul music and these men have incorporated and celebrated it in their music. Their music is a celebration of African-American music. It is a celebration of Oakland.

It is the antidote to Justin Bieber.

What my husband BMNB appreciated most about the concert was their musicianship, which he believes is in woefully short supply these days. At one point, guitarist and singer Dwayne Wiggins stopped the show before starting Whatever You Want because his guitar "didn't sound right." He played all of his available guitars to find just the right one to play the familiar opening guitar riff in this beloved song. He asked the audience if we noticed the difference. We did, and we appreciated it.

Mind you, BMBN and I started the day watching Justin Bieber on The Today Show. We looked at all the screaming girls and the paparazzi, listened to his performance, and looked at each other as if to say, "WTF?"

When we drove away from the Tony!Toni!Tone! concert later that night, we remarked on the marked difference between Bieber and the Tonys. BMBN just shook his head and, in reference to Bieber, remarked, "It's just criminal . . . . . letting that boy go on thinking he's got talent." Mind you, Bieber may play a lot of instruments, but I don't think he's got the talent or the staying power of the Tonys.

Let's see if 15-20 years from now those teenage girls are singing and dancing along to Justin Bieber as I was to Tony!Toni!Tone! Somehow, I don't think so.


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