By the standards of today's superdivas, this is a modest album. There are no traces of the wailing matron Patti La Belle or the teen vamp Janet Jackson, nothing of Whitney Houston's yuppie melodrama. Baker just sings, and in these days of vocal extravaganzàs, Rapture is an unexaggerated delight.
It's also a difficult one to tackle. Baker's voice is a husky gurgle, somewhere between Sarah Vaughan and Joan Armatrading, and though she primarily sings well-crafted love songs, she doesn't build them up into big productions or speed them up to Top Forty tempos. Listening to Baker demands patience and attentiveness; she doesn't take any shortcuts and won't allow her listeners any either.
What helps Baker succeed is that her musicians don't just play behind her, they know her giving her legato plenty of room, echoing her incandescent phrases, maintaining a groove that's relaxed but never dull. The symbiosis between Baker and her band brings delicate strength to "Sweet Love" and "You Bring Me Joy," warmth to "Same Old Love" and vague yearning to "Mystery."
Baker's most revealing interpretation is of her own composition "Watch Your Step." If it were Aretha handling the, "you done me wrong" lyrics, she'd either beat her lover into heavenly submission or leave him burning in hell, while Patti would deafen him. Baker is nearly deadpan; you know she's suffered every imaginable hurt, so that when her searing release does come at the end of the song you believe it.
At times, the groove on Rapture gets a little too homogeneous, and Baker occasionally drifts into some superfluous scatting and pseudo-jazz harmony. But these are just minor flaws in the work of an artist who's here for the long haul an acquired but enduring taste. (RS 482)
(Posted: Sep 11, 1986)
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