Trends in African-American music changed considerably between Anita Baker's first taste of national exposure in 1979 (when she was a member of Detroit soul band Chapter 8 and sang lead on the hit ballad "I Just Wanna Be Your Girl") and her debut solo album, The Songstress, in 1983. While 1979's black music charts were full of large funk bands, standup vocal harmony groups, and disco divas, rappers and techno-funksters like the System were very much in vogue in 1983. Instead of following trends, Baker excelled by doing what she does best: gospel-influenced, '70s-type soul/pop with jazz overtones. The Songstress, released by the small Beverly Glen label and reissued by Elektra in 1991, wasn't the mega-hit her next album, Rapture, would be. But the Sarah Vaughan-influenced singer began to build a following with such honest, heartfelt ballads and "slow jams" as "No More Tears," "You're the Best Thing Yet," and the caressing "Angel." A sweaty taste of gospel-drenched funk, the invigorating "Squeeze Me" is atypical of the ballad-oriented Baker -- although she definitely shines at this faster tempo. Indeed, Baker's solo career was off to a most impressive start with The Songstress. For those who savored Rapture and Giving You the Best That I Got, The Songstress is also essential listening.
The Songstress Review
by Alex Henderson