Picks and Pans Review: Sons of Soul

updated 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tony! Toni! Toné!

Since 1988, the Tonics (brothers Raphael and Dwayne Wiggins and their cousin Timothy Christian) have helped spearhead a return to sweet soul music that thrives on live instruments. And on this album there is sweetness and soul to spare. You can feel it right from the opening notes, as the Tonies eschew state-of-the-art studio wizardry and beat-of-the-month trendiness for rhythm and blues that gets its swagger from the streets and its heart from the past.

What is soul? You can hear it in the twangy, finger-popping single "If I Had No Loot" as Raphael does his best Eddie Kendricks impression over a drum beat that does Stax Records proud. You can feel it in the Jackson Five sway of "Tell Me Mamma" when the horns kick in and the testifying takes you to the bridge in serious style. You can taste it in the achingly tender "Lay Your Head on My Pillow," which favors gentle seduction over crass come-ons, or the grand "Anniversary Suite" that lends elegance to the often formulaic slow jam.

Sexy, slammin' and totally hip, Tony! Toni! Toné! gives what may be 1993's best answer to the question. What is soul? (Mercury)

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