Top New R&B

Talk Dirty

Jason Derulo

Testimony (Deluxe)

August Alsina

SoMo

SoMo

G I R L

Pharrell Williams

Z

SZA

Love In The Future (Deluxe Edition)

John Legend

Lift Your Spirit

Aloe Blacc

The Truth (Deluxe Edition)

Ledisi

Braveheart

Ashanti

Love, Marriage‎ & Divorce

Toni Braxton

Hot R&B Singles

Happy (From Despicable Me 2)

Pharrell Williams

All of Me

John Legend

Paranoid (feat. B.o.B)

Ty Dolla $ign

The Worst

Jhené Aiko

Na Na

Trey Songz

They Don't Know

Rico Love

Up Down (Do This All Day)

T-Pain

Loyal (West Coast Version)

Chris Brown

Hold On, We're Going Home

Drake

It Won't Stop (feat. Chris Brown)

Sevyn Streeter

R&B Rebels

Lift Your Spirit

Aloe Blacc

G I R L

Pharrell Williams

The Lady Killer

Cee Lo Green
“Fuck You,” the feel-joyously-spiteful hit of summer 2010, should cast a large shadow across Cee Lo Green's third proper solo album. The singer’s biggest solo single to date, it’s the best form of novelty hit -- a side-splitting surface supported with a durable underbelly, combining Millie Jackson-level lyrical frankness with a knockout throwback-soul production. Even without the presence of “Fuck You,” The Lady Killer would remain a thoroughly engrossing album. Bookended by a recurring spy-film theme, the set is loaded with a potent mix of Green’s singular voice -- meaning his graceful bellow and his oddball personality -- and knowing, hefty soul arrangements sheathed in hip-hop vigor, often embellished with strings, horns, and substantive background vocals. As with 2004’s Soul Machine, some of the best songs here share titles with R&B classics. The testimonial “Wildflower” switches between corny/winking couplets (“Sexy is in season/Share your sunshine with me”) and amusing metaphor play (“Hold her with both my hands/Put her right on my table when I get her home”). The infectiously beaming “Fool for You,” served with a choppy gait, carries as much pride as Ray Charles' “ A Fool for You.” “I Want You,” yet another song that punches and swirls, isn’t as straightforward as its title suggests; it’s about pressing the reset button on a dying relationship. The final full song, “No One’s Gonna Love You,” "is" a cover -- not of the S.O.S. Band, but Band of Horses. It’s a faithful version that humbly spotlights the versatility of a fascinating talent. Just as importantly, it’s a suitable way to follow “Old Fashioned,” a tear-the-roof-down ballad drenched in reverb and sweat.

Andy Kellman, Rovi

The 20/20 Experience

Justin Timberlake

Cupid Deluxe

Blood Orange

True

Solange
Solange's first independent release, a seven-track EP for Grizzly Bear member Chris Taylor's Terrible label, follows the Top Ten album Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. As the gap was four years in length, True naturally sounds significantly different -- not much like her loose, Day-Glo throwback soul of 2008. Written and produced with Dev Hynes (aka Lightspeed Champion and Blood Orange), the songs have a diaphanous new wave via synth funk sound that is much closer to Little Dragon than the Dap-Kings. The lyrics detail a busted relationship and provide aching, wistful, and frustrated contrast to the animated and slowly swaying backdrops. The mournful closing ballad "Bad Girls" features an unsurprisingly chunky bassline from Verdine White, yet the drum machine and slightly decayed surface make the whole thing sound more like a 1984 Mtume demo (not a knock). This is a promising prelude to Solange's third proper album.

Andy Kellman, Rovi

Unapologetic (Deluxe Explicit Version)

Rihanna
One year after Talk That Talk, Rihanna revs up her reign with some of her most entrancing material to date on seventh album Unapologetic. Led by hit single "Diamonds," she ventures through a variety of ballads, party tracks and collaborations: "Loveeeeeee Song" with Future, "Stay" with Mikky Ekko, "Numb" featuring Eminem, and then there's Chris Brown jamming out like Michael Jackson on "Nobody's Business"—a song you might be mad at if it weren't so good. "Jump," which borrows the chorus from Ginuwine's "Pony," finds RiRi bold as ever: "When you fuck them other girls I bet they be wondering why you always call my name"; while on "Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary," she breaks free from the sentiment of the album's title and is most daring as she repents: "You took the best years of my life/...I pray that love don't strike twice."

Laura Checkoway, Google Play

Kiss Land

The Weeknd

R.E.D. (Deluxe Edition)

Ne-Yo
Libra Scale was the first Ne-Yo release that failed to go platinum. The quasi-concept album didn't come close to making it halfway there. The singer and songwriter, however, wasn't on the brink of recording covers for Shanachie. The album's "Champagne Life" was long lasting on commercial radio, and featured spots on Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" (number one Hot 100), Young Jeezy's "Leave You Alone" (number three Hot R&B/Hip-Hop), and Calvin Harris' "Let's Go" (number 17, Hot 100) propped him up through the release of this, his first album for Motown -- the label employing him as Senior Vice President of A&R. Given Ne-Yo's success with Euro-flavored dance-pop and the continued marginalization of R&B, chances were slim that he would be inspired by his new label to stick to the latter genre. In terms of its place in the Motown legacy, R.E.D. is much closer to a modern-day Dancing on the Ceiling -- with several variations on the title track -- than In a Special Way. This is actually back-loaded with dance-pop; while the serviceable but indistinct "Let Me Love You" comes along early and the dance-pop/R&B hybrid "Be the One" leads the second half, the three-track closing stretch reveals dance-pop as the dominant style. Ne-Yo does not go through the motions, but the songs carry an air of "going about my job in a compliant, professional manner." There's a contemporary country duet co-written by Luke Laird (Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Eric Church) and co-sung by Tim McGraw, as well as an adult contemporary ballad. The highlights are all casual, subtle, finely detailed midtempo numbers and slow jams. [A Deluxe Edition added four bonus tracks.]

Andy Kellman, Rovi

Silky Soul

Midnight Love

Marvin Gaye
Larkin Arnold, former CBS Records (Sony Music) senior executive VP, convinced Marvin Gaye to leave his flat in Belgium and sign with Columbia Records; the result would become the soul singer's last album before his untimely death. Of all his number one songs, this album's first release, "Sexual Healing," became his longest running number one single on the Billboard R&B charts (ten straight weeks). With the exception of the guitar, the Washington, D.C. native performed every instrument on this classic hit. Gaye concocted a pioneering percussive sound that was balladic in taste but stimulating in feel. As this project may not be an absolute erotic expression or a socially challenging plea from Gaye like on some of his previous albums, nonetheless, Midnight Love is a classic Marvin Gaye effort. In addition to this project thriving with Gaye's enthusiastic spirit, it has his harmonious background vocals, his stunning vocal arrangements and his creative penmanship, as he wrote all the selections.

Craig Lytle, Rovi

Silky Soul

Maze/Frankie Beverly

Rapture

Anita Baker
Though Anita Baker got some airplay out of The Songstress, that promising solo debut didn't bring her financial security. In fact, Baker was earning her living as a legal secretary in her native Detroit when she signed with Elektra in the mid-'80s. Elektra gave her a strong promotional push, and the equally superb Rapture became the megahit that The Songstress should have been. To its credit, Elektra made her a major star by focusing on Baker's strong point -- romantic but gospel-influenced R&B/pop ballads and "slow jams," sometimes with jazz overtones -- and letting her be true to herself. Rapture gave Baker one moving hit after another, including "Sweet Love," "Caught up in the Rapture," "Same Ole Love," and "No One in This World." Praising Baker in a 1986 interview, veteran R&B critic Steve Ivory asserted, "To me, singers like Anita Baker and Frankie Beverly define what R&B or soul music is all about." Indeed, Rapture's tremendous success made it clear that there was still a sizeable market for adult-oriented, more traditional R&B singing.

Alex Henderson, Rovi

Busy Body

Luther Vandross
Luther Vandross has acquired a reputation for releasing solid, quality albums. Whereas some artists, whether intentional or unintentional, release albums with one or two good songs, Vandross makes every recording count regardless if every song is released. This project falls in line with one superb composition after another. From the alluring arrangements to the striking melodies, every song glitters with a delightful spirit. The New York native did a remarkable job on the medley "Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)." Showing his appreciation for the Carpenters ("Supertar") and Aretha Franklin ("Until You Come Back to Me"), Vandross created a masterpiece with the combination of these two songs. It was a number five single on the Billboard R&B charts. "How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye," a duet with Dionne Warwick, is another work of art by the serenading tenor. It peaked at number seven. With a hurdling groove, "I'll Let You Slide" pranced its way to number five on the Billboard R&B charts. From a supernatural lyric to a suspenseful string arrangement, "Make Me Believer" summed up the four releases cresting at 48. Only three selections remain, and all three could have easily charted. This is a splendid album.

Craig Lytle, Rovi

Breakin' Away

Al Jarreau
Released in 1981, Breakin' Away is not only a great follow-up to This Time, it all but perfected the effort. With an amazing batch of songs, producer/artist chemistry, and top-level players, Breakin' Away became the standard bearer of the L.A. pop and R&B sound. "Closer to Your Love" comes off as a tougher, more confident version of the songs from the previous album. However, in short order, Breakin' Away assumes its own identity with brilliant results. Everything works so well here that the hit, the pleasing "We're in This Love Together," comes off as the weak link. "Easy," with its gorgeous and subtle Latin flourishes, has Jarreau's purposeful delivery coming off oddly poignant in its joy and beauty. The bittersweet "My Old Friend" has him giving a charming and understated reading with gorgeous synth signatures that speak volumes. Most of Breakin' Away has Jarreau in great spirits and giving one great performance after another, like the powerful and melody-rich title song. Like his best albums, this gives Jarreau plenty of room to exercise his chops. He struts through the funky and elegant "Roof Garden," and on the impressive "(Round, Round, Round) Blue Rondo a la Turk" he offers great scats and whimsical lyrics. For the final track, Jarreau brings new life to "Teach Me Tonight" and it has a sweeping, dreamy arrangement. Produced by Jay Graydon, Breakin' Away is a great album and informed a lot of Jarreau's subsequent efforts.

Jason Elias, Rovi

Faces

Earth, Wind & Fire

Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie
Lionel Richie's solo career began while he was still in the Commodores, as he wrote and sang (as a duet with Diana Ross) the theme to the Brooke Shields romance Endless Love, which became a bigger hit than any of the group's singles, thereby setting the stage for his departure and his 1982 self-titled solo debut. He wasn't working in unfamiliar territory, or with new musicians. The Commodores decided to work as their own band, so their producer, James Anthony Carmichael, was able to devote his energy to working on Richie's album. Using the pop-crossover ballad style of "Endless Love," "Three Times a Lady," and "Easy" as their template, the duo turned Lionel Richie into a sleek, state-of-the-art record that, at its best, provides some irresistible pop pleasures. The key to its success -- and the reason it was scorned by some Commodores fans -- is that Richie doesn't even make a pretense of funk here, leaving behind the loose, elastic grooves of his previous bands (a move that makes sense, since his voice never suited that style particularly well), choosing to concentrate on ballads and sparkly mid-tempo pop, peppered with a few stylish dance grooves. The ballads, of course, provided two big hits with "My Love" and "Truly," two numbers that illustrate that he was moving ever-closer to mainstream pop, since these are unapologetic AOR slow-dance tunes. The other big hit, "You Are," is an effervescent, wonderful pop tune that showcases Richie at his sunniest; it's one of his greatest singles. Throughout the first part of the record, the dance numbers are served up and they're very good -- "Serves You Right" has a shiny, propulsive groove, while "Tell Me" jams nicely. After "You Are," the record bogs down with a couple of ballads that are on the wrong side of adult contemporary -- too formless, too hookless to really catch hold -- but they don't hurt the first seven songs, which form a dynamic mainstream pop-soul record, one of the best the early '80s had to offer. It's the sound of Lionel Richie finding his solo voice, and, the next time out, he knew how to use it even better than he does here. [The 2003 reissue of Lionel Richie includes two bonus tracks: a solo demo of "Endless Love" which not only fits perfectly with this record, but is less cloying, and an instrumental of "You Are" whose primary worth is to hear the detail and expertise in the production Richie and Carmichael assembled.]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

If That's What It Takes

Michael McDonald
As the lead singer of the Doobie Brothers from 1975-1980, Michael McDonald's soulful voice and skilled writing gave the group classics like "Minute by Minute," "Real Love," and the perfect "What a Fool Believes." After the group's 1980 album One Step Closer displayed a tension that was almost audible, it was no surprise that a split was in the works. 1982's If That's What It Takes is McDonald's first solo effort, and was recorded at the great recording studios like Warner Bros. and Sunset Sound and was co-produced by Ted Templeman and Lenny Waronker. The album's biggest hit, the moody and sleek "I Keep Forgettin'," continues McDonald's unflinching look at heartbreak, and it is more R&B-influenced than the previous Doobie Brothers work. The buoyant "I Gotta Try," co-written by Kenny Loggins, perfectly captures the early-'80s L.A. pop sound. While McDonald's pop acumen is no surprise, If That's What It Takes also offers McDonald the chance to do ballads. The poignant and spare "I Can Let Go Now" has some of his best lyrics. "Losin End," which first appeared on 1976's Takin' It to the Streets, gets recast as an even bleaker rumination with a suitably sorrowful solo from Tom Scott. The melodically complex "Believe in It" has McDonald doing some great, offhanded gospel-tinged vocals. This debut juggles tracks of merit and those of less distinction, but the bright spots make this essential.

Jason Elias, Rovi

What You Won't Do For Love

Bobby Caldwell
Bobby Caldwell is one of only a handful of white vocalists (Van Morrison and Simply Red's Mick Hucknall, to name a couple more) who legitimately transcended the blue-eyed soul tag. Caldwell's genuine mix of R&B and jazz signatures as well as his bittersweet yet buttery vocal tones conjure up images of a smoothed-out version of Chet Baker. On this, his breakthrough album, the native New Yorker scored a hit with the timeless "What You Won't Do for Love" and also polished off another near-classic on "My Flame." While a few of the compositions echo the dying grip of disco and some of Caldwell's vocal arrangements sound more like a hipper version of Tony Bennett ("Can't Say Goodbye"), the crooner does possess the pipes to carry the offering. Caldwell even tries his hand at the experimental on the short but sweet instrumental "Kalimba Song." Time will likely render much of Bobby Caldwell disposable, but at the album's best, the songs do carry a singular sound and contain the power to place themselves in a time period, which may just be good enough for lovers. The cut "What You Won't Do for Love" will always stack up, as even hip-hop producers saw fit to sample the horn riff and bass track a number of times (listen to 2Pac's "Do for Love," for one).

M.F. DiBella, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Bill Withers
At only ten tracks, Greatest Hits is a little brief and doesn't contain much of his earliest material, but it remains a first-rate compilation of Bill Withers' prime hits, featuring "Use Me," "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lean on Me," "Who Is He (And What Is He to You)," and "Just the Two of Us." The latter-day Legacy compilation is a bit more thorough, but this remains a good basic overview.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi