In the past I’ve dismissed Tony Toni Tone as just another generic R & B combo, but after last year’s Hits (Mercury) and a subsequent reassessment of their 1996 album, House of Music, I’m ready to eat some crow. The trio’s main trick–its seamless application of hip-hop production to old-school soul–isn’t an original one, and its “Little Walter,” a number one hit on the R & B chart in ’88, was little more than a rewrite of the gospel gem “Wade in the Water.” But next to Sean “Puffy” Combs, who loops old pop hits and calls them new, brothers Dwayne Wiggins and Raphael Saadiq and their cousin Timothy Christian Riley look like visionaries, and their ability to evoke soul’s golden age reduces the whole argument to a quibble anyway. The spirit of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Gamble & Huff, Al Green, Prince, and other greats pulses through their sensuous slow jams, and while none of the three can match their role models for sheer vocal power, their original melodies and carefully sculpted harmonies make up the difference. Tuesday, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-923-2000.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos by William Claxton.