Sometimes it’s the albums with lower expectations that are the most surprising or yield impressive results. Nothing kills a musician’s vibe more than a delayed album, which often leads to tepid sales and listless overall reception. For Tamar Braxton, Calling All Lovers suffered from that dastardly “delayed release bug”, yet the album itself is quite pleasant. Calling All Lovers by no means rewrites the script of the adult contemporary R&B album in 2015, but what it does do is serve as a prime example that the well-rounded, more traditional R&B album still has tremendous appeal.
Calling All Lovers nails the ‘grown folks’ R&B formula. If she hadn’t already proven it on sophomore album Love & War, Braxton shows she has her own distinguished set of pipes with a wide range, and she holds her own. Grammy-nominated single “Love & War” showed Braxton at her best even where some of the material on the parent album was less thrilling, but Calling All Lovers shores things up undoubtedly. The power, grit, and range are breathtaking, making the under-the-radar lot of this album sadder.
Calling All Lovers initiates intriguingly, departing from a cliché script. “Angels and Demons” is a reggae-tinged R&B joint intact with the nuances and gimmicks. Though not a heavyweight number, it departs from the expected. Follow-up “Catfish” maintains the intrigue, bucking traditional, in favor of Braxton “spreading her wings”. If the swag of “Catfish” is too shocking, traditional, power ballad “Simple Things” arrives in just the nick of time. “Simple Things” appeals most to the mature crowd, given its utter simplicity in regards to the successful, dedicated relationship. In other words, it’s “old school”.
At times, fair or not, Tamar’s shows some vocal similarities with older sister Toni. This is apparent on “Broken Record”, where Tamar employs her lower register, with a huskier tone. The same could be said of her robust lower register on “Never”, though she ascends to show off her prodigious, powerful upper range. The soulful “Circles” packs a mighty punch, with Braxton biting, delivering an inspired, flawless performance. She doesn’t back down on the throwback soul record “If I Don’t Have You”, which has some resemblance in tune to fellow R&B diva Keyshia Cole’s “I Choose You”. While throwback R&B singles aren’t the go to on pop radio, listening to sound record makes one question why it wasn’t more successful.
Naturally, Braxton reminisces to her career staple up until this point, “Love & War”. She doesn’t reference it lyrically on “Raise The Bar,” but musically the overall sound and harmonic progression come directly from the adult contemporary R&B hit. There’s an enigmatic, nebulousness about “Raise The Bar” that amplifies the overall sexiness. The vocal production and arrangement don’t hurt the cause either. Beyond praising him for “raising the bar”, Braxton further expresses the depth of her love on the simply titled “I Love You”. It definitely doesn’t rewrite history, but like the majority of Calling All Lovers, it’s pleasing.
“Love It” ventures beyond the traditional formula, slickly blending elements of dance and contemporary R&B. While “Love It” is still mature, there’d be no shame in the game for the younger, more hip-hop oriented generation embracing it. Follow-up “Must Be Good To You” then returns Calling All Lovers to throwback territory, albeit with the lack of filter characterizing 2015. Penultimate “Free Fallin’” gives Braxton another huge vocal moment, which as always, she excels at without a hitch. “King” concludes respectably, though never achieves the grandeur of the crème de la crème.
It could be argued polished contemporary R&B albums are hard to come by these days. Tamar Braxton proves that wrong throughout Calling All Lovers. It’s not the personification of perfection, but over its course, Calling All Lovers is a refined, enjoyable listening experience.