Brandy / Ray J

A Family Business

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Always one of the classiest teenage divas to emerge from the '90s R&B scene, it's a little disheartening to see that Brandy now has to resort to appearances on Dancing with the Stars and VH1 reality shows to make her uniquely seductive voice heard. A Family Business, released to coincide with the same-name second series of the latter, shows that the former America's Got Talent judge's talents still tower above most of her contemporaries, but unfortunately they are forced to share equal billing with the rest of her distinctly average relatives on 11 tracks that have their heart in the right place, but are drowned in so much schmaltz that they would make even Robin Williams balk. "Talk to Me," a duet between Brandy and gospel singer father Willie Norwood, is the type of gloopy sub-Disney ballad you'd have expected to hear on her late-'90s Cinderella remake; "My Family," a cutesy nursery rhyme hip-pop duet between Brandy's daughter Sy'rai and her half-sister Rain Smith is unlikely to dethrone Willow Smith as pop's premier preteen famous offspring; and the closing epilogue from mother/manager Sonja is a cod-spiritual slice of psychobabble that feels like it's been shoehorned in just to make the whole family concept complete. Elsewhere, brother Ray J does little to dispel the sub-Chris Brown comparisons with the derivative and Auto-Tuned dance-pop of "Turnin' Me On," and the Shorty Mack-featuring "Ready to Roll" owes more than a nod to Fergie's "Glamorous," while father/vocal coach Willie's impressive soulful tones are wasted on the sax-fueled '80s lounge bar-style dedication to his wife, "Sonja, Sonya, Sonia" and an ill-advised attempt at crunk, "Home Grown." Ultimately, it's left to Brandy to save the day, with the clattering acoustic R&B of "Lifeguard" and slow-burning slow jam "I Don't Care" whetting the appetite for her upcoming sixth studio album, although family friend (and recent signing to Ray J's Knockout imprint) Tasha Scott's feisty Changing Faces-esque ballad "Gone" suggests she could be one to watch in the future. A Family Business undoubtedly has its charms, but while it's likely to provide several "oohs" and "aahs" at a Norwood family get-together, for outsiders it's a sickly sweet affair proving that Brandy is their only real and genuine star.

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