- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

Anita Baker

My Everything

Blue Note

Whether Anita Baker will perform at another Bush inaugural, as she did in 1989, depends, of course, on the November election.

Politics, though, will likely take second place to “My Everything,” her first CD since a self-imposed hiatus of more than a decade.

Unlike many performing artists, Miss Baker chose to walk away from the limelight while still basking in its glow, shunning mass fan appeal for marriage and motherhood.

There were other matters, too. Caring for ailing parents who are now deceased. Failed dealings with former record labels.

Now she’s back, not only with a new album, but with a new record deal on the venerable jazz label Blue Note.

On “My Everything” (produced by veteran R&B; producer and longtime Baker collaborator Barry Eastmond), the eight-time Grammy winner’s rich, warm alto is as regal as ever, but the CD’s material isn’t up to the standards of such earlier Baker album classics as “Rapture,” “Giving You the Best That I Got,” “Compositions” and “Rhythm of Love.”

The album’s title track is a sprightly, radio-friendly affair (thanks, in part, to the tight backing harmonies of the Perri Sisters) with the predictable hook that — for better or worse — enables Miss Baker to indulge her fans with plenty of her trademark “oh baby, bay-beeees.”

From there, “Everything” slides briefly downhill.

“How Could You” appears to be merely a space filler, and her cover of the syrupy Dawn Thomas-penned “Serious” (one of the few songs not written by Miss Baker on the 10-track set) is as lackluster here as it was for Regina Belle when she recorded it in the early 1990s.

She rebounds quickly, however, with “Like We Used to Do,” a duet with Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. The song about a love affair that temporarily veered off-track is, for the most part, sturdy and sensitive with the exception of the infantile lyrics in the second verse: You were my Weezie, You were my boo, You were my Thelma, God, I was so into you.

Moving on, Miss Baker adds lyrics to and gets good traction from the Yellowjackets’ “I Can’t Sleep.” The group’s members, including two of its founders, keyboardist Russell Ferrante and bassist Jimmy Haslip, do backup duty, and Eric Marienthal’s breezy sax solo flutters throughout.

The album ends on a high note with “The Men in My Life,” a Baker-penned ode about her husband and sons that easily could be just as much at home in a country music format as it is in R&B; and smooth jazz.

With her Blue Note move, Miss Baker has signaled her readiness to play in the same leagues as the label’s reigning jazz divas, Dianne Reeves and Norah Jones. The record company is more than willing to oblige, allowing her to own her master recordings (a rare concession to artists) and assuring her that a jazz disc is on the horizon after she delivers an LP featuring the smooth R&B; style for which she is best known.

“My Everything” is that project. May the “oh baby-bay-beeees” — which should have no place in Miss Baker’s sophisticated sound — never again rear their heads.

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