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Singing Inside the Box

Norah Jones Come Away With Me (Blue Note) Norah Jones’s new recording, Come Away With Me, begins seductively enough: a warm acoustic bass line nestles under a gently twanging guitar, then a high female voice with a slight drawl croons, “I waited till I saw the sun / Don’t know why I didn’t come.” That’s […]

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Still Reachin’

Digable Planets Blowout Comb (Pendulum) Two years ago, you nearly had to be sequestered not to know the Digable Planets were cool like dat, fly like dat, and slick like dat. With those few lines from “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”–murmured over a catchy acoustic bass line (straight outta Art Blakey)–they rode deep into […]

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The Best She’s Got

Anita Baker Rhythm of Love (Elektra) It’s a bitch being a romantic in a cynical age; you use up half your energy proving that you’re not hopelessly naive. Then you use half of what’s left differentiating love from an intense night of carnal passion. So when Anita Baker soared high above those obstacles and eloquently […]

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No Need to Shout

CARLEEN ANDERSON TRUE SPIRIT (VIRGIN) DES’REE I AIN’T MOVIN’ (EPIC) JOI THE PENDULUM VIBE (EMI) SHARA NELSON WHAT SILENCE KNOWS (CHRYSALIS) Rhythm and blues has such a propensity toward garish extravagance when making small statements, whether classic stuff like Aretha Franklin’s cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or contemporary nonsense like Whitney Houston’s cover of […]

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Shallow Youth

AALIYAH AGE AIN’T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER (JIVE) SHANICE 21 . . . WAYS TO GROW (MOTOWN) In most genres coming-of-age records are somewhat rare (rock’s proliferation of coming-of-middle-age records doesn’t count), but in R & B they’re a staple. Typically the COA recording signals an artist’s move beyond the influence of their Svengalis or […]

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Beggin’ for Bootie

12-PLAY R. KELLY (JIVE) GET UP ON IT KEITH SWEAT (ELEKTRA) Nowhere is the resurgence of rhythm and blues more evident than in the ascendance of the new-and-improved slow jam. These ballads and mid-tempo laments, long a staple of adult-directed “quiet storm” radio formats, have been the upscale, “soft” antithesis of hip hop’s hard knocks. […]

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Ain’t No Gangstas Here

NAS ILLMATIC (COLUMBIA) JERU THE DAMAJA THE SUN RISES IN THE EAST (PAYDAY/FFRR RECORDS) The geographic superiority phase of the rap wars is over, and everybody won. In all the precincts that were part of the conflict–east coast and west coast; Long Island and New York City; Mount Vernon and New Jersey; Brooklyn, the Bronx, […]

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Dance Divas

CRYSTAL WATERS STORYTELLER (MERCURY) JULIET ROBERTS NATURAL THING (REPRISE) CE CE PENISTON THOUGHT ‘YA KNEW (A&M) Although the dance-music boom (aka the disco revival) of the late 80s and early 90s is over, dance music is alive and well. Artists with commanding voices are releasing diverse and often superb full-length CDs, and several labels have […]