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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : A Hip-Hop Twist to Old Soul From Tony Toni Tone

August 28, 1993|PHIL GALLO

The fashion sense Tony Toni Tone showed Thursday in a swelteringly hot Roxy begins and ends with "Superfly." But the musical inspiration heard over nearly two hours spanned decades of soul: Tony Toni Tone has soaked up generations of R&B--from James Brown through the sounds from Stax, Motown and the Tonyies' Oakland ancestors--and given it a modern hip-hop twist to claim its own spot in soul music's lineage.

That lead singer Raphael Wiggins--who along with guitarist-brother Dwayne and drummer-cousin Tim Christian Riley makes up the core of the group--has engaging stage patter, a church-trained voice and some showy microphone-stand moves only add to the Tonyies' credibility as keepers of a fabulous flame.

Despite having the catchiest radio hit of the summer, "If I Had No Loot," it was "Tell Me Mama" that revealed Thursday how expertly Tony Toni Tone can craft a modern take on R&B's tradition. Using Jackson 5 and Temptations vocal stylings, Earth, Wind & Fire horn charts and riffs from Sly & the Family Stone hits, the nine-piece band jelled on a roar of a tune that's as soulful as New Jack Swing gets.

Tony Toni Tone is at its best when it generates a churning bass-heavy rhythm that's more easily swayed to than danced to and runs counter to the modern slickness of Shai, Boyz II Men and other bands pledging allegiances to soul's past.

The group's downfall comes with the midtempo numbers that filled half the concert. On those songs they concede the upper-hand that a song like "If I Had No Loot" gives them and play it safe with a single lead voice with harmonies on choruses and lyrics that reduce matters of the heart into trivialities.

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