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Bobby Valentino

Special Occasion (DTP/Def Jam)

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Two years ago, Bobby Valentino's debut climbed inside Billboard's top five, but things change fast in today's R&B. Eclipsed by newcomers like Ne-Yo and Chris Brown, Ludacris' crooning protégé saw his sophomore set delayed amid leaked tracks and trial-balloon singles. Now that Special Occasion is here, however, it shows little falloff; it's another decent collection of slow jams sparked by one great track, "Anonymous." With its swirling synths and stuttering beat overseen by Timbaland, the song keeps alive the possibility that Bobby is -- as he obviously hopes -- Usher's heir apparent.

However, it's Babyface to whom Bobby V. pays the greatest tribute; he even undertakes a faithful version of the 1989 ballad "Soon as I Get Home." Bobby's insistence that he's going back to his roots with this cover is worth noting; the fact that slick, synthesized soul is all today's young singers can remember explains the clinical sound that now dominates urban music. Yet the reserve and craft of Babyface's pre-hip-hop-influenced R&B also comes through on Special Occasion, so the kid could have done far worse in picking his influences.

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