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Soul Express Album of the Month - September 2004

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My Everything

US Blue Note 2004
1) You're My Everything 2) How Could You 3) In My Heart 4) Serious 5) How Does It Feel 6) Like You Used to Do 7) Close Your Eyes 8) You're My Everything Revisited 9) I Can't Sleep 10) Men in My Life

Here it finally is, Anita Baker's triumphant return: her first new studio album in ten years. The venerable record label evoked expectations of more straight-forward jazz elements in her music, but stylistically this really is a very logical continuation to Anita's familiar sophisticated jazz-flavoured soul style. For the most part produced by Barry J. Eastmond, the CD is filled with wonderfully rich acoustic arrangements featuring, among others, Gerald Albright, Nathan East, Jimmy Haslip, Paul Jackson Jr, Steve Ferrone, Ricky Lawson, Russel Ferrante, William Kennedy, George Duke (who also mixed the album), Bashiri Johnson, The Ridgeway sisters and the Perry sisters. I was particularly glad to hear a genuine horn section backing Anita, with Jerry Hey and Gary Grant on trumpet, Reggie Young on trombone, Gary Bias on tenor sax and Dan Higgins on tenor and baritone sax. The natural feel Anita has emphasised as being important for her in the recording process is highlighted with all but one track having notes after the title indicating "live rhythm section", "live rhythm section & vocals, no edit" or "live rhythm section & vocals, take 1".

Vocally, Anita is in superlative form, and I won't even try to find new ways of describing the voice of this unique songstress, my all-time favourite female artist. The title of a fan's testimony on the Blue Note website is as apt a definition as anything I could come up with: "You can sang the abc's and I'll buy it."

The opening track, You're My Everything, was all I needed to convince me that My Everything will end up among the very top efforts on my list for the best albums of 2004. Also released as the first single, it is a magnificent midtempo soul groove with an instantly appealing melody and Anita gliding over it all sounding utterly divine.

The entire album is made up of smooth ballad / midtempo material with the quality and atmosphere remaining very even throughout the set, and I would imagine that favourite tracks vary among different listeners. There are no duds at all, even the Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds collaboration, Like You Used to Do, fits the overall style very nicely, although I really feel that Babyface duetting with Anita Baker is a mismatch of talent.

Along with You're My Everything, my personal favourite would have to be I Can't Sleep, which begins in a peaceful mode sounding like a vintage Anita Baker ballad, then starts really cooking with the band slowly picking up intensity, the ever-reliable Eric Marienthal blowing a highly soulful sax solo and Anita getting more and more excited as the song progresses. The only thing wrong with this terrific instrumental and vocal exercise is that it doesn't last longer... The midtempo How Does It Feel is another one on which Anita really shines towards the end.

High as the overall standard of the music is, I wouldn't elevate any particular track to the status of outright Anita Baker classics like Body and Soul, You Bring Me Joy or No More Tears, but this really is one of those albums that should be judged as a whole. Consistency is definitely one of the strengths of My Everything. I realise this is emphatically old-fashioned music in the sense that the vocal interpretation, melodies and rich arrangements are what it's all about, and rhythmically it might sound dated to fans of more modern R&B sounds. Over the years, there have been comments about whether Anita's music is too "adult" and even accusations of her having lost her soulful roots. Personally; I find it hard to believe that anybody who has an appreciation for soulful singing in various African American musical genres – an appreciation that has lasted more than three and a half weeks, that is – could fail to hear the emotion, the inspiration, in Anita Baker's music. (9)
–Petteri Ruotsalainen

Albums of the Month in 2003
Albums of the Month in 2002
Albums of the Month in 2001
Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

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