For this week’s Second Listen Sunday, I decided to visit the Buckeye State and pay homage to The Rude Boys. The Cleveland-based quartet consisted of Larry Marcus, Melvin Sephus, Edward Lee “Buddy” Banks, and Joe Little III. Initially breaking onto the scene in 1990 with the hits “Written All Over Your Face” and “Are You Lonely For Me” from their debut, they wasted no time returning to the studio.
Second Listen Sunday: Toni Braxton, Libra
This week’s pick for Second Listen Sunday is from the R&B songstress Toni Braxton catalog. She was already a force in the music world when her sixth album, Libra, arrived in stores in the fall of 2005.
Braxton’s fifth album, “More Than a Woman,” undersold, and she had to cancel many scheduled performances due to complications after discovering she was expecting her second child, resulting in a three-year gap before her next album. Wanting a change, Braxton left her label and signed with Blackground Records.
The initial version of Libra, produced by Braxton and her former spouse Keri Lewis from Mint Condition, heavily focused on ballads. However, to prevent a potential failure, the record label insisted on a re-recording with a more commercially appealing sound. To achieve this, Barry Hankerson, the label’s head, enlisted in-demand producers such as Scott Storch, Rich Harrison, and The Underdogs to create a more current and trendy sound.
Scott Storch produced the album’s first single, “Please,” which also opens the album. Catchy and upbeat “Please” aligns with the popular sound of female empowerment. Braxton’s voice is as soulful and captivating as ever, and it’s clear that she was having a good time recording the record,
The legendary Bryan Michael Cox brought his talents to the second single, piano-heavy R&B slow jam “Trippin’ (That’s the Way Love Works)”. Braxton effortlessly navigates through a range of emotions throughout the song. The highly sought-after producer, Rich Harrison, infused his signature sound into the third single, “Take This Ring,” influenced by Go-Go music. Although some critics dismiss the song as Harrison simply repeating the groove he created for Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” and Amerie’s “1 Thing”, it also works well for Braxton.
The rest of the album shows that Braxton can adapt to modern trends after a decade in the game and still appease her core fan base. Midnite” and “I Wanna Be Your Baby” would feel right at home on a project from one of Braxton’s younger counterparts. A young Keri Hilson contributed her writing talents to the infectious “Sposed to Be,” while “Stupid” and “Finally” recall Braxton’s early sound.
Despite being appreciated by Braxton’s fans, Libra went unnoticed upon release to the public. Nevertheless, it’s a solid album from one of the best voices to emerge from nineties R&B.
Final Grade: B
Libra is available on all streaming platforms.
More reviews to explorer
Valentine’s Day 2024 may have come and gone, but I still plan to use highlight songs with the V-word for February’s Slow Jam Saturday. The artist I chose is a southern gentleman by the name of Lloyd. Initially breaking onto the scene as a member of the preteen-boy band N-Toon, Lloyd’s solo career kicked off in 2004 with the hit “Southside.”
As we continue to celebrate the month of love, I chose “Valentine by Ryan Leslie as the second song with the word valentine for February’s Slow Jam Saturday. Leslie broke into the music industry in 2003, writing hits for Beyoncé and New Edition. Leslie released the singles “The Way That U Move Girl” and “Used 2 Be” featuring Fabolous. However, his debut album was never officially released due to creative differences with his record label. In late 2007, Leslie finally broke through with the bop “Diamond Girl,” and his self-titled album would finally hit record stores on February 10, 2009. Leslie also succeeded with the follow-up singles “Addiction” and “How It Was Supposed to Be.” Surprisingly, though, Leslie didn’t drop “Valentine” as the fourth single, which would have timed perfectly with the album release date.