Back and At Her Best

With “Libra,” Toni Braxton employs her sensuality and control for familiar and new ends

The album continues many of Braxton’s early ‘90s sounds as well as exploring soft and subdued hip-hop sounds; it even gets jazzy at times. Braxton uses her smooth, sensuous voice to fill out the sound of her songs in a way few singers have the vocal control to manage. She has maintained the ardor of her first hits in the early ‘90s when Babyface plucked her from Bowie State University in Maryland. If her voice were compared to an instrument, it would be the synergistic quality of a jam session between a blues organ and a very upbeat, full-bodied cello.

The album begins with “Please,” a very bouncy hip-hop style piece destined to be a radio hit. The style reappears in different forms in “Midnight” and “Finally,” with great bass that rumbles with a really big thump that rolls by slowly, wrapping the listener in a blanket of warm sound. It’s comfortable and it’s chic—perfect for filling a well-lit and finely decorated apartment, or a car stereo with nice woofers.

Braxton offers a few throwback moments to classics such as “Un-break My Heart,” where one can’t help singing out loud, following her grooves that inevitably spark good feelings.

“Stupid” and “What’s Good” bring out the string bass and slow beats for some sexy mellow club jazz, with choruses that effortlessly delve into R&B. The instrumentation behind Braxton’s voice add new layers to her sound.

“Take This Ring” reaches back to ‘70s funk as a basis for a modern R&B fusion. The song is filled with a splashy cymbal sound and retro crunch funk guitar riffs. It sounds somewhat like a musical representation of stiff corduroy—in a comfortable and very stylish way, that is.

The final song, “Shadowless,” is an almost folk-like piece with just Braxton’s voice and guitar following a surprisingly crooning melody, which might be available on a coffee shop juke box, on the rotation next to Bob Dylan and John Mayer. It’s very unlike anything she has ever released.

After exploring other avenues of stage performance, Toni Braxton is back with an album full of new surprises for the skeptical, treats for old fans, and musical suitable for the dance floor, quiet settings, big cars with spinners, and iPods. And, despite her recent health struggles, she looks as great as ever, as the album cover reveal. These songs are likely to gain wide recognition.

“My first love has always been R&B and I’ve been into hip-hop since it first started,” Braxton has been quoted as saying. “On each of the albums I’ve done since my first one, I’ve done things to introduce people to other aspects of what I’m about musically.”

The trend continues.

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