** 1/2 ANITA BAKER “Compositions” <i> Elektra</i> : <i> Albums rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic).</i>

On one level--as a showcase for Baker’s vocal expertise--this is an admirable album. Those who appreciate canny vocal attacks can marvel at her jazzy styling--complete with offbeat phrasing, anguished wails and novel note extensions. As a female jazz/R&B; singer, Baker has no peer.

But on other levels, this album of sad love songs has problems. Though generally spare, the arrangements suffocate the songs, which seldom flow smoothly. “Fairy Tales,” extended by a graceful piano solo, is the lone exception. The mostly slow, sometimes medium tempos seem to drag.

Also, the album’s scope is too narrow--too much melancholy. Even a medium-tempo song like “Soul Inspiration” is more suitable for a blue mood. Despite its slight bounce, “Lonely” is tinged in gloom.

If you’re down in the dumps, listening to this album can be fun, like commiserating with someone in the same boat. Otherwise, unless you really love Baker’s voice, the album will be a real bring-down.

Baker needs to lighten up a bit. A cheery song or two, about nothing very serious, would have given this album some badly needed variety.


She has accumulated a large pop following with her previous two albums--which do have some pop appeal. But this album, with its much stronger jazz/R&B; slant, may alienate the pop crowd.