Vanessa Williams must be trying to make up for lost time. After not releasing any new recordings for seven years, she returned to the pop scene last October with the Christmas CD Silver & Gold. The former Miss America follows that up quickly with another holiday-pegged disc, a collection of '70s love songs that arrives just in time for Valentine's Day. Although these classy covers of everyone from Melissa Manchester to the Fifth Dimension can't top the originals, they will hardly snuff the candlelight out of a night of romance. Williams, an underrated singer who never oversells a song, sets a soft, sensual mood with smooth-jazz revamps of the Jackson 5's 1971 hit "Never Can Say Goodbye" and Stevie Wonder's 1979 chestnut "Send One Your Love." And her string-laden version of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is pretty if predictable. But Williams's tasteful approach can sometimes be a little too bland. She hardly has the soulful firepower to compete with Chaka Khan's original vocal on "Everlasting Love." Two duets produce mixed results: "With You I'm Born Again," with George Benson, generates a gentle warmth, but she and James "D-Train" Williams suck all of the funk out of "I'll Be Good to You."
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Never Can Say"