Had it not been for fellow English singer Adele's 21, Late Nights & Early Mornings would have topped the Billboard 200 the week after its 2011 release date. Marsha Ambrosius' solo debut had staying power, too. One of its singles, "Far Away," was nominated for two Grammy Awards. While she continued to make occasional guest appearances, highlighted by spots on Robert Glasper Experiment's "Trust" and Daley's "Alone Together," Ambrosius took her time with Friends & Lovers. In a good way, it shows, as it contains another sizable volume of impeccable -- sometimes explicit -- slow jams. Front-loaded with a handful of euphoric ballads, including collaborations with Da Internz and the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, the album is mostly about vulnerable but assertive sensuality. "So Good," "Night Time," and "69" creep and slink in stealth fashion, yet they linger in the memory as much as anything from the singer, songwriter, and producer's past. At an hour in length, the album isn't without imperfections. An update of Sade's "Love Is Stronger Than Pride" is muddled with an assortment of references, ranging from Jeru the Damaja's "Come Clean" (via Funk, Inc. and Shelly Manne samples) to a clashing Marcellus Wallace quote, while Dr. Dre's unmemorable guest verse is likewise peppered with allusions. The album loses a little more steam with a couple less stimulating, merely adequate numbers, such as a duet with Charlie Wilson. They're undoubtedly inferior to the likes of "Cupid (Shot Me Straight Through My Heart)" and "La La La La La." Even if the former didn't mention butterflies, it would evoke Michael Jackson at his most romantic. The dazzling latter, despite quoting Minnie Riperton, sounds more like a tribute to Teena Marie, with Ambrosius seemingly on the verge of singing about her third eye and subliminal chills. Both songs enliven the second half of a follow-up that's just as hot as the debut.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman