Sometimes nothing feels quite as fresh as a pleasant blast from the past. The 1980s were arguably the halcyon days of female urban adult contemporary vocalists. The emergence of Anita Baker, Miki Howard and Regina Belle along with 70s carryovers such as Phyllis Hyman and Patti LaBelle brought solo women to the forefront of "adult" soul music and created a iPod full of memorable songs that still stand up in 2009. It is out of this mold that Toni Redd arrives, more than two decades after UAC's peak.
The Atlanta-born Redd has been a well known name in the music business for years, having supported both R&B and smooth jazz artists ranging from Gerald Albright to Pieces of a Dream. And she brings both her experience and the adult soul aura to her sophomore album, ..."N" the Key of Redd. Working with producer/multi-instrumentalist Bob Baldwin, Redd writes and performs a disc that should appeal to a demographic that has been largely underserved for the better part of this not-so-new millennium.
..."N" opens with "Anytime of Day," a jazzy track that has the vibe of early Maysa. However, it is Phyllis Hyman whose shadow is most evidently cast on the disc, especially on the ballads "Holding On To Your Love" and "Missing You" and the big closing duet "We Should Care" (with Bobby "Cheez" James). But while Redd wears her influences on her sleeve, she doesn't suffer from the comparisons. Her relaxed style and excellent phrasing are nearly perfect for the slow and midtempo fare on the disc, and Baldwin's smooth production provides an elegant backdrop, rightly elevating Redd's attractive vocals to the disc's epicenter. So songs like "I Apologize," "I'm Changing" and the mild dance tune "Always There For Me" have the feel of 1987 but sound surprisingly fresh a generation later.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about this album is that, in its embrace of the past, it sounds so good today. Maybe it is because other than Maysa, it is tough to think of another major artist covering this territory, much less one with Redd's pipes. But whatever the reason, while it doesn't blaze any new territory, ..."N" the Key of Redd is an extremely enjoyable late night disc front-to-back, deftly combining solid material, appropriately restrained production and a top notch singer. And that never goes out of style. Recommended.
By Chris Rizik