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Anita Baker

My Everything (Blue Note)

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One of the great voices of the '80s and early '90s, Anita Baker returns after a 10-year absence to join labelmates Norah Jones, Van Morrison, and Al Green. All are proponents of classy, retro soul music, and all now work for Blue Note, a label once identified exclusively with jazz and particularly bop -- but there's nothing boppish about Baker's new album. It does, however, appeal to adults. My Everything is more worldly than Jones's material, more personal, and more romantic. Like the five albums Baker recorded for Elektra between 1985 and 1994, it's reassuring, sophisticated, and regularly lovely.

Baker's alto is as strong as ever, her melismatics comfortingly honeyed and seductive. Where she used to celebrate the pleasures of monogamy and the limits and thrills of desire in songs like "Giving You the Best That I Got" and "Caught Up in the Rapture," she now applauds maturity and family, in "Serious," the powerful "You're My Everything," and "Like You Used to Do," an organic, easy duet with Babyface.

The album could use rhythmic variety, and more solos might have leavened the mix. But the settings are largely effective and clearly designed to showcase Baker's gorgeous alto, which can span the innocence of a young girl and the wisdom of a seasoned woman in the course of a single song.

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