Honor roll: Rythm & Blues albums

Each of these Rythm & Blues albums has received at least one award nomination. They are ranked by honors received.

Album:Genius Loves Company

Genius Loves Company

Ray Charles

The fact that Genius Loves Company will be Ray Charles’s final new album inspires an unavoidable blue feeling. But it’s also a happy reminder that the man spent the last months of his life at work doing what he loved. The overall effect of these dozen duets is autumnal and smooth. Brother Ray is on point and cruising here. Fine moments abound—you can hear his delight even in the rather stiff company of Diana Krall and Natalie Cole. His voice sounds a bit frayed by ill health at times, but it also allows for great performances like the slyness behind the…

Album:Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

OutKast

At a time when experimentation is taboo in most overground rap, that’s all Outkast seem intent on executing. Firstly, this double CD has no cohesive link, other than the fact that it sounds like a pair of solo albums stitched together to demo exactly how Andre’s yin works to augment Big Boi’s yang. Andre 3000’s Love Below disc rates as the more eclectic of the two, given that he’s turned in his emcee credentials to become a full-on funk-soul-jazz vocalist who mostly sings about items of love (“Happy Valentine’s Day”), carnal lust (“Spread”), and female…

Album:The Emancipation of Mimi

The Emancipation of Mimi

Mariah Carey

Early buzz on The Emancipation of Mimi predicted that this would be the disc to mark “the return of the voice”—the voice being that glass-shattering instrument that propelled Carey to bestselling female artist of all time status—and mostly it is. But because of the small army of talent involved in its assembly, the album is way more than just a comeback vehicle. For proof, try straight-ahead, look-out-Beyonce-Mimi’s-still-got-it “Mine Again,” or ‘70s-soul cuddle-up, “Circles:” a don’t-attempt-on-American-Idol love song, or the gospel dazzlers “Fly…

Album:Late Registration

Late Registration

Kanye West

For haters eager to see Kanye hit a sophomore slump—no such luck. Late Registration can’t replicate the novelty of last year’s College Dropout, but otherwise, this is an impressively more mature and labored-over album. Lyrically, Kanye’s only improved a notch but musically, the album sounds incredible, especially with co-producer Jon Brion helping polish the songs to perfection. Tracks like “Heard ‘Em Say” (featuring Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) and “Hey Mama,” are richly textured in their soulfulness while the flint-edge of “Crack Music” and “Gone”…

Album:Confessions

Confessions

Usher

A CD is always more compelling when you know it’s lifted from the artist’s autobiography, and that’s certainly the case with Confession, Usher’s first record since 2001’s 8701. The Atlanta singer’s string of hits over the past decade have been decidedly PG-13 rated, almost veering towards teen pop, but he’s changed all that on this co-produced offering, which he claims is “the real him.” It would be too simplistic to just brand this record a break-up record, chronicling his public split with TLC’s Rozonda “Chili” Thomas; it is that, but so much…

Album:The Diary of Alicia Keys

The Diary of Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys has more than lived up to the promise of her formidable debut Songs in A Minor, pushing beyond her flirtation with old-school soul and venturing into the modern world, even hiring Timbaland to guide her through the shoals of anthemic hip-hop on the breathless and funkified “Heartburn.” Sounding like a hyperthyroid cheerleader, Keys unleashes a quirky sense of humor that no one even suspected she possessed. Her effortless singing on the beat-driven “Karma” is a wonder of sonics on this uplifting piece of pop philosophy, giving countless anxious…

Album:Get Lifted

Get Lifted

John Legend

Given the sped-up classic soul samples with which Kanye West has made his mark, it comes as no surprise that the producer/rapper would pick a tradition-minded R&B singer as his first big pet project. Legend first made his name on Philly’s incense-clouded, ‘70s-obsessed neo-soul scene, then found his way to New York and became West’s right-hand man in the studio. His patron’s pop smarts serve Legend well—while many contemporary R&B records rely too heavily on a singer’s cadence and skill to carry underdeveloped tunes, Legend and West have composed genuine songs…

Album:Dance With My Father

Dance With My Father

Luther Vandross

Given Luther Vandross’s precarious state of health at the time of its release, Dance With My Father’s title track—a tale of yearning for a lost loved one—takes on added poignancy. It’s something of a centerpiece on an album that moves in several directions, reaching for varied constituencies, while ultimately staying focused on Vandross’s trademark buttery vocals. In addition to “Dance,” there’s more adult-contemporary balladry (“Buy Me a Rose”), lightly sassy soul (“If I Didn’t Know Better”), and a number of collaborations with hip-hoppers that often work…

Album:Dangerously in Love

Dangerously in Love

Beyoncé

The perfect timing of Beyonce Knowles’ career moves continues with the release of her debut solo album. Dangerously in Love’s best music is wildly up-to-date, craftily designed for both maximum street acceptance and positioning as some of the most cutting-edge stuff on current radio. The brash first single, “Crazy in Love,” melds Jay-Z with an unstoppable Chi-Lites horn sample, shape-shifting into something brand new. Collaborations with Outkast’s Big Boi and Sean Paul also prick up the ears, while changes of pace like “Be with You” and “Speechless”…

Album:Ashanti

Ashanti

Ashanti

These days, R&B girls are a dime a dozen, but Ashanti Douglas is a step ahead of the pack. Youthful appeal and a pleasantly dreamy voice complement the 21-year-old singer/songwriter’s ability to pen her own radio-friendly verses. However, Ashanti’s young’un status shows itself through her treatment of the usual R&B-girl subject matter: love standing strong, love gone bad, and the search for love of self. Songs like “Foolish,” “Happy,” and “Baby” are as simple and agreeable as their one-word titles suggest, while “Call,” “Movies,” and “Over” take a slightly more…

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