Raphael Saadiq and Dawn Robinson don’t boast the best pipes in the music biz, but when paired with the melodic compositions concocted by Ali Shaheed Muhammad, their singing sounds undeniably sweet. This unique union carries the debut effort from Lucy Pearl, a group that can’t quite meet the expectations that resulted from its impressive pedigree but nonetheless provides welcome respite from the jaded tunes that clutter urban radio.
Multi-instrumentalist Saadiq was the backbone of the R&B band Tony! Toni! Tone!, Robinson was the vivacious member of the cookie-cutter girl-group En Vogue, and Muhammad dropped more than a platter’s worth of memorable beats for the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. With so much talent locked into one studio, some predicted greatness, but Lucy Pearl doesn’t offer enough variety to meet such lofty standards, despite dabbling in rock, employing a collegiate marching band, and enlisting Q-Tip and Snoop Dogg for cameos.
Saadiq and Robinson collaborate nicely on “Dance Tonight,” but they also take turns handling lead vocals. Robinson’s high-pitched whine injects “Don’t Mess With My Man” with girl-power adrenaline, warning “hands off” in a manner that suggests she’s reveling in this tough-gal role, while Saadiq’s nasal crooning on “Without You” gives the tune a sense of emotional urgency. Muhammad contributes plenty of infectious grooves, but the group never really takes any risks, perhaps because the artists were not yet comfortable enough with one another. Most all-star projects are one-off affairs, but should this trio stay together, it might eventually gel well enough to produce the kind of great record people expected Lucy Pearl to be.