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R&B music sure has taken its share of blows in the last few years. Singers were out, rappers and recycled beats were in, and songwriting seemed more like an anachronism than anything current artists were interested in preserving. Musicians were putting more creativity into their red carpet appearances than their often subpar CDs.

Fortunately, though, a small but talented crew of R&B talent remained true to the artistry that many folks still yearned for, and some welcome comebacks have rounded out one of the most quality groups of album releases we’ve seen in a while.

Here are the five CDs you must own before the year is out.


If Eric Benet is lost in time, then it’s a good era. His first single, “Sometimes I Cry,” has already found its way to domination of Quiet Storm formats, as well as into the secret iPod playlists of heartbroken men. The great thing about this CD is that it’s a real soul album, filled with well-written, well-crafted and well-performed albums from a man who’s had more than his fair share of public heartbreak. Plus, it features guest stars that truly enhance the musical vibe instead of upstaging the artist – Faith Evans, Chrisette Michele, Ledisi and Eddie Levert all join Benet on the CD. Really, quality soul is nothing that Benet hasn’t been doing since his debut back in 1996. If you truly need music to bliss out to, pick this one up, along with some candles and a mellow glass of pinot noir – and hopefully someone to share it with.


New father Ne-Yo has managed to strike an interesting balance between contemporary and traditional R&B. He’s just as comfortable providing hooks for Rick Ross, dueting with Rihanna, Jennifer Hudson or Chrisette Michele as he is revisiting Sammy Davis Jr. But what truly sets Ne-Yo apart from the modern pack is his ability to craft a great song. From “So Sick” to “Irreplaceable” for Beyonce to several other hits, Ne-Yo always works in service to a great arrangement and melody. His latest, “Libra Scale,” is in the same vein, a mellow CD chock-full of songs that can – and do – set the mood. No duets, no hip-hop breaks; just a good, solid R&B record. Like its title, which refers to the Libran desire for things to be perfectly aligned, “Libra Scale” balances elements of the old and the new in an appealing mix.


We’re not sure if a memo was sent out to R&B artists this year telling them to take their sound back to the essential basics of the rhythm and the blues, but if so, we have a feeling R. Kelly was the sender. “Love Letter” is a brilliant effort from a musical genius who, in recent years, has seemed less than inspired. After the theatrical “Trapped In The Closet” series and hip-hop heavy “Double Up,” it seemed like this generation’s tortured genius was running out of inspiration. Then comes “When a Woman Loves,” a tour de force single that quickly reestablished Kelly as the leader of the pack. The CD continues in that vein, with a selection of songs that can only be described as modern classics. Regardless of his personal proclivities, when it comes to music, Kelly is the most definitive singer, songwriter, musician and performer of his time.


When El Debarge dropped off the scene in the 1990’s, after a less-than-stellar solo career, it …..