Picks and Pans Review: Rapture

updated 07/28/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/28/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Anita Baker

Given the rise of Whitney Houston and Sade and the resurgence of Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle, there seems to be a remarkable renaissance of quality black female vocalists. Anita Baker is one of them. Unlike Jennifer Holliday, another powerful, distinctive singer who has never been effectively captured on record, Baker knows exactly the virtues of her voice. She favors jazz-flavored ballads, or "fireside love songs" as she calls them, and like Ella Fitzgerald, Baker demonstrates an astonishing vocal elasticity. Her phrasing seems idiosyncratic yet inevitable. On the title tune, for example, she turns an upbeat ballad into the sensuous, satisfied sigh of a sophisticated lady. On Been So Long, Baker moans low in a mesmerizing homage to Sarah Vaughn, and on Sweet Love, a jaunty plea for romance becomes plaintive without becoming pathetic. Because of a contract dispute with the record label that released her 1983 solo debut, Songstress, Baker hasn't recorded in three years. On this album, she contributed three songs and served as executive producer. Her personal involvement has paid off: There's not a song on the album for which she is not suited. Despite her relative inexperience, the Detroit-born Baker, 28, exhibits confidence and control. She's showy without being self-conscious, stylized without being simply stylish. And for a balladeer, she markets an unusual commodity: optimism. She sounds worldly-wise but doesn't stoop to a cynical stance. Baker is more than a promising discovery; she's the rare artist who appears to have emerged with her talent fully developed. It's difficult to imagine that a more seductive, soulful or successful album will be released this year. (Elektra)

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