A Tamia album is like a favorite pair of jeans. They're a surefire choice; they match any mood and hug you tight. Sure, there may be edgier or flashier numbers in the closet, but it's that trusted pair that gets the most mileage.
"Love Life," the singer's latest, is a reminder of how comforting familiarity feels.
At a time when contemporary R&B has lost its footing on the charts and both emerging and established artists are finding new ways to experiment within the genre, Tamia remains one of the few steadfast voices that have yet to cave to trends or attempt reinvention.
Although the move hasn't rewarded her with a bounty of crossover radio hits or a bigger profile, the Canadian singer's knack for anchoring herself in classic R&B textures has made her one of the genre's more reliable talents.
On "Love Life," her sixth effort and first for Def Jam, she offers grown-up R&B-soul at its finest. Tamia isn't concerned with heartbreak, taking a break from the kids or going out with her girlfriends. Instead, the bulk of the album is devoted to, well, devotion. The warm, familiar intimacy of a long bond -- as opposed to the tougher moments that test it -- is the crux of the album.
Likely a soundtrack to her own nearly 16-year marriage, Tamia spins tales of lovemaking that is sweet, trusting, comfortable and durable. "Baby drop your luggage on the floor / We won't make it upstairs / And you know the kids are down," she sings on "Chaise Lounge," an ode to spontaneous passion.
Strawberries, high heels and Egyptian cotton sheets underscore a night of extra spice on "Lipstick." She gushes over the man who fills in her blanks on "Love Falls Over Me," presses her buttons (the good ones) on "Like You Do" and supports her endlessly on "Stuck With Me."
The love is so good, she'll even fluff her man's pillow and bring him a snack afterward on "Sandwich and a Soda." One of the album's stronger offerings, it's the closest she gets to painting outside her traditional color palate with its heavy electric bass and slight organ hits.
But the message is the same: She's about pleasing the man who pleases her, both in and outside the bedroom.
Two decades into her career, Tamia's voice -- a beautifully understated lilt capable of both stirring lows and ethereal highs -- has shown no signs of wear, remarkable considering many of her peers have struggled to maintain their instrument and relevancy.
"Love Life" isn't about reinventing the wheel or even experimenting. Like that trusted pair of jeans, or the lover who has held you close for years, it's about comfort. And there's nothing more comforting than familiar territory.
3 stars (out of four)