***ANITA BAKER. “Giving You the Best That I Got.” Elektra.
Naturally, the first thing everyone is going to do with Baker’s new album is compare it to her last one, “Rapture,” which sold more than 4 million and helped forge a niche for jazz-oriented artists in the pop mainstream.
No, the new collection of mellow love songs isn’t as good as “Rapture.”
But that’s not really a put-down. While “Giving You the Best That I Got” is a fine album, “Rapture” was a remarkable pop/jazz/soul record--a rare marriage of superb, jazz-tinged vocals and quality pop material. Topping it would have been tough.
The best songs on the new one are the absorbing, tautly produced ballads “Lead Me Into Love” and the title tune. But these songs don’t outshine the gems on “Rapture,” such as “Sweet Love” and the classic “Mystery.”
But a Baker album can succeed with just ordinary material. One of the primary pleasures of listening to the Detroit-based singer’s music is merely savoring her voice. No matter what she’s singing, you can lose yourself in her rapturous, high-pitched vocals, which are full of mesmerizing, Sarah Vaughan-like phrasings.
“Giving” traverses basically the same turf as the last one. Once again, the consummate musical tightrope artist straddles the line between pop and jazz, deftly intergrating nifty, nonlinear jazz touches with pop-style instrumentation and backup vocals.
Again, she’s made an album of all slow- and medium-tempo ballads. Why is she avoiding up-tempo material? Mellow is nice but it can be overdone. A little variety would be appreciated.