Toni Braxton

Libra

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Libra marks Toni Braxton's departure from Arista, her longtime label. It was a stormy relationship that ended with the fast death of 2002's fine More Than a Woman. Only one Neptunes-produced single was spun off from it, which peaked somewhere in the eighties of the Hot 100. Half a year after the album's release, Braxton was off Arista and on the Universal-distributed Blackground, but Libra didn't surface until fall of 2005. (Granted, Braxton's no stranger to protracted gaps in her release schedule.) Libra offers no surprises. It's lean and balanced, just like all other Braxton albums, though too many songs are tepid and merely functional for background listening, so it winds up a safe distance from the likes of the self-titled debut and Secrets. "Take This Ring," produced by Rich Harrison, adds some unexpected rambunctiousness, yet it's about one-tenth as exciting as Amerie's like-sounding "1 Thing" (also Harrison's work). Beyond the obvious single choices -- produced by big names like Scott Storch and Bryan-Michael Cox -- two songs handled by the Underdogs' Antonio Dixon ("Sposed to Be" and "Finally") are as sublime and plush as any other pair in Braxton's catalog. Although this is her spottiest album to date, her fans shouldn't have any trouble appreciating it.

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