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ALBUM REVIEW / POP

Babyface Shows Expertise as Bandleader on 'Unplugged'

November 22, 1997|ELYSA GARDNER

*** BABYFACE: "MTV Unplugged" Epic

Very few artists have mixed chops with good taste as adroitly or profitably as producer-songwriter-performer Babyface, the Midas of contemporary R&B. So it's hardly surprising that this album boasts more virtuosity and less empty shtick than many of the other "Unplugged" recordings.

Working with a team of superbly talented musicians, Babyface delivers taut, sparkling versions of songs that have been hits for stars ranging from Eric Clapton to Whitney Houston and Boyz II Men and infuses other material, including the sinuous "Talk to Me" (featuring Clapton on guitar) and the dreamy but forthright "I Care About You" with smooth soul accents and elegant jazz nuances.

Occasionally, Babyface and his cohorts overplay their hand. A lovely, effervescent version of "Change the World" is stretched out a bit too long, and guest singer Shanice Wilson indulges in mannered pyrotechnics while filling in for Toni Braxton on "Breathe Again." But such excesses are redeemed by the expert musical camaraderie, the generous and masterful sense of give-and-take, that defines Babyface's style as a bandleader. It's not for nothing that the top artists in the business line up to collaborate with this guy.

*

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

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