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***, TONI BRAXTON, "Secrets", LaFace/Arista

June 16, 1996|Elysa Gardner

In following up the debut album that won her 1994's best new artist Grammy, Braxton clearly wasn't taking any chances. As before, the singer tapped Babyface, the King Midas of contemporary R&B, to co-write and co-produce a bunch of songs. And once again, she enlisted a number of leading artists to supplement Babyface's contributions, in this case ranging from R. Kelly to Tony Rich. But while Braxton's sophomore effort isn't long on surprise or daring, it's nonetheless a beautifully crafted, cohesive body of work that makes the most of her particular talents.

Like Anita Baker, Braxton has a richly emotive alto and a penchant for dramatic inflections that can make her sound mannered on occasion. But generally, Braxton chooses material that accommodates her throaty, sob-heavy approach.

On the gloriously schmaltzy "Un-break My Heart," she dips to the sultry bottom of her register, then surges upward with an irresistible pathos. "How Could an Angel Break My Heart" is a more subtle, elegant ballad, but here Braxton's pining vocals provide a neat foil to the understated arrangement. And on more rhythmically charged numbers such as the thumping single "You're Makin' Me High," Braxton proves herself just as convincing in perky mode.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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