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Finding a balance between contemporary and classic, the 90's superdiva aims to please longtime fans while welcoming new ones.

Music Review: Toni Braxton – Pulse

In a career that has seen its share of high and lows, Toni Braxton has explored a number of musical avenues. Debuting as a sophisticated R&B chanteuse with a jazzy edge, she transformed into a pop balladeer within her first few years of success. Then, after a brief stint on Broadway, she pursued the world of hip-hop-influenced urban contemporary – without much success.

The Grammy-winning singer finds a nice balance between her adult-oriented fare and youthful leanings on Pulse. The bulk of material is set at a slow to midtempo pace, with several uptempo workouts peppered in for good measure. Most notable upfront is the perky pop-dance confection “Make My Heart,” which has the feistiness of a Christina Aguilera jam and the melodic appeal of a latter-day Destiny’s Child club record. What Braxton has over those ladies, however, is the gift of vocal straightforwardness. No elaborate histrionics are necessary.

Ballad-wise, Pulse’s standout moments come toward the end of the set. The unassuming lyrics and arrangement of “Why Won’t You Love Me” and the Michael Warren-produced “No Way” both give Braxton room to spread her lush tones and nuances in the classic way her fans have been missing. Furthermore, the plaintive “Yesterday” is notable for its juxtaposition of poetically steered verses against a very contemporary melody. Although the single was promoted as a duet with Trey Songz, the album contains Toni’s solo version (which ultimately works better).

Pulse may not be up to the minute in production style, but its focus is on music first – not the trend of the moment. In an age where “get it now” means more than emotional depth, it’s reassuring that Braxton and Atlantic Records have taken the high road.

About Justin Kantor

Justin Kantor is a music journalist with a passion for in-depth artist interviews and reviews. Most of his interviews for Blogcritics can be heard on his Blog Talk Radio program, "Rhythmic Talk." Justin's work has been published in Wax Poetics, The All-Music Guide, and A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Music Business and Management program, he honed his writing chops as a teenager—publishing "The Hip Key" magazine from 1992-1996. The publication, which was created out of his childhood home in Virginia Beach, reached a circulation of 10,000 by the time he was 16. At Berklee, Justin continued to perfect his craft with a series of 'Underrated Soul' features for The Groove from 1997-2003. This led to a companion TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in 2002, as well as writing for the national Dance Music Authority (DMA). A self-described "obscure pop, dance, and R&B junkie," Justin also has penned liner notes for reissue labels such as Edsel Records and FunkyTownGrooves. He's excited to be a part of the BlogCritics team and indulge his musical fancies even further. Connect with him at his Facebook page, or via [email protected].

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