Review by Andy Kellman Despite multiple lawsuits and fluctuating lineups during a 14-year between-albums gap -- a period during which the original quartet was temporarily intact -- En Vogue recorded Electric Café as the same trio that made Soul Flower. The creative rapport shared by Cindy Herron, Terry Ellis, and Rhona Bennett remains unchanged here on the sixth En Vogue full-length, a whimsical yet surprisingly steady collection of material that continuously switches eras and styles with positive energy beaming all the way through it. The six songs the singers co-wrote with their architects and career-long collaborators, Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster, are the most adventurous. These include "Electric Café" itself, a strutting, coolly detached new wave-styled number that rhythmically resembles the Romantics more than the Kraftwerk song of the same title. The galloping "Life" incorporates some dubstep trickery, and "Love the Way" is high-gloss dance-pop only tenuously connected to disco, but they're both full songs at the core, with the second one highlighted by the women at their Emotions-like harmonizing best. They recall the Hutchinson sisters again on the Kid Monroe-produced soul-funk throwback "Have a Seat," featuring a compatible if inessential verse from Snoop Dogg. The other big-name collaborators are Ne-Yo, who co-writes the coasting bliss-out "Rocket," and Raphael Saadiq, who teamed with Taura Stinson to write "I'm Good," a loosely funky backdrop for primping before a celebratory night out. Going strictly by the unfussy ease with which this enjoyable album seems to have been knocked out, one wouldn't know that the group's status was ever in doubt.
Review by Andy Kellman As her 1993 blockbuster debut approached its 25th anniversary, Toni Braxton proceeded to collect accolades while moving forward. Her duets album with Babyface was designated Best R&B Album in 2015 by the Recording Academy -- making her a Grammy winner in three decades -- and the connection with her foundational audience was reaffirmed in 2017 with a Soul Train Legend Award. Her every-few-years release schedule was maintained with this short album, in which she responds to a habitually philandering lover with her distinctive mix of fire and finesse. This has more of the former element than any previous Braxton release. Although the title track is placed second in the sequence, it's really the first scene, or at least the album's basis, an emotionally raw if composed confrontation supported by piano and strings. "I guess you're too cold or too bold to give a fuck," she remarks with a sting. "FOH," one of two Babyface collaborations, is far more explicit, with jealousy and contempt at a boiling point. Only "Missin'," the closing song on the standard edition, deviates from the rough story line, and that's for its lack of sourness; it's built on a light galloping rhythm yet is all about longing, merely one form of emotional engulfment displayed by the singer. There's also a hint of reflective sweetness to "Long as I Live," but the ache is incurable, and the Colbie Caillat collaboration "My Heart" glistens but is otherwise drained. Elsewhere, Braxton alternates between regret and admitting romantic dependency. The productions, typically polished for a Braxton album, are subtly diverse, with "Deadwood" easily adaptable to contemporary country, "Sorry" rooted in classic Southern soul, and "Missin'" verging on tropical pop. Non-standard edition bonus track "Forgiven," a ballad of closure, would make much more sense as this album's finale than it does in its original state, as the backdrop for the credits sequence of Roland Joffé's The Forgiven

(September 29): The Southern Soul man is back on the Shanachie label with a new album of gritty music.

(September 22): The talented songstress returns with an album that promises to cover a lot of ground.

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