Blue Note Records
Good news for Anita Baker fans: The 46-year-old R&B diva's much-ballyhooed Blue Note debut, her first studio recording in a decade, is precisely what you'd expect-nothing less, nothing more. Wading into the comfortably warm, lush territory that has defined her sound and career for a quarter-century, Baker, undeniably one of the classiest acts in the business, serves up a platter of sweet 'n' savory canapes that are as superbly constructed as they are dully, familiarly similar. Though the eight-time Grammy winner, now a contented mother of two, sounds terrific-her ebony-lined voice remains as rich and inviting as ever-there is little here to differentiate one lusciously mellow track from another-or from anything Baker has done since the quintuple-Platinum success of Rapture in 1986. All but one of the nine tracks were written or co-written by Baker. They are uniformly lovely, and "Men in My Life," a tender ode to her husband and sons, is particularly moving. None, though, not even a soaring duet with Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds on "Like You Used to Do," venture even an inch or two off the safe path Baker paved with such massive hits as "Sweet Love," "Just Because" and "Giving You the Best That I Got." "There are times," said Baker in a pre-release interview in Billboard, "when the creative door is just closed." Unfortunately, though Baker obviously intended the quote to imply otherwise, this seems to be one of those occasions. "I'm grateful that my fans have always gotten me," she says later in the same interview. Yes indeed, what they're getting here is what they've always gotten.