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Toni Braxton 

More Than a Woman (Arista)

Neither diva nor neo-soul sister, Toni Braxton has always aimed for the crossover radio-and-club hit. And like fellow pop-R&B anachronisms from TLC to Michael Jackson, Braxton updates this old-school strategy with jittery electro beats and brittle sound effects, courtesy of hot producers ranging from the Neptunes to Manny Fresh. The tinny futurism suits her, too, offsetting a thick alto that might otherwise get as gummy as Tracy Chapman's folk croon. Boosted by such touches as a Big Tymers rap or Curtis Mayfield vocal sample, the first five tracks offer all the solid hooks and seductive beats a dial spinner or club-hopper could want.

They also offer a conceptual suite, as Braxton finds five different ways to tell her man to "Hit the Freeway" with his "Lies, Lies, Lies." The second half's slow, airy jams get all lovey-dovey (and a tad gooey), but even when giving him a show, she notes that a ménage-a-trois is going too far. And at a time when so many young Bonnies are swearing allegiance to their amoral Clydes, Braxton's honorable refusal to share dates her as much as anything in the music.

More by Franklin Soults

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