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Toni Braxton - Topic

Essential Mixes Play

With Frankie Knuckles' vocal house remix of "Unbreak My Heart" almost as well known as the epic power ballad original, husky-voiced R&B diva Toni Braxton seems a more suitable candidate than most to receive the Essential Mixes treatment. There's nothing as majestic as the aforementioned (featured here in a less familiar eight-minute version with flashes of industrial techno on either side) on the 12 reworkings of 11 songs plucked from her back catalog, but there's plenty here that provides a new slant to the source material, without completely butchering it. The HQ2 Radio Edit of acoustic love song "Spanish Guitar" ramps up the flamenco guitar and adds some pounding drums to produce a Mardi Gras-style carnival number in keeping with its Latin vibe; "You're Makin' Me High" is transformed from a sensual slow jam into an uplifting slice of Italo house and booty-shaking reggae by the David Morales Classic Mix and Dancehall Mix, respectively; and Knuckles repeats his winning formula, with admittedly less anthemic results, on his epic ten-minute retooling of "I Don't Want To." The other seven remixes are less drastic, with the five tracks included from her 1993 self-titled debut pretty indistinguishable from the new versions, save for a slightly stronger new jack swing production, and a slightly more urban flavor on R. Kelly's remix of "How Many Ways," while arguably her two finest singles, "He Wasn't Man Enough for Me" and the Neptunes-produced "Hit the Freeway," are left firmly intact, with just an extended intro/outro justifying their inclusion here. Like most of the Essential Mixes collections, there's very little that comes close to the originals, but there's also very little here that will have fans up in arms, ensuring that this respectful batch of remixes is perhaps the best of the series so far. ~ Jon O'Brien, Rovi

The Collection [3 Disc] Play

Released in 2006, The Collection bundles 1996's Secrets, 2000's The Heat, and 2002's More Than a Woman -- Toni Braxton's second through fourth albums. Unlike some three-in-one packs that skimp on the liner notes and artwork, this one contains the three discs as they were originally released, and they're in individual cases, so the flimsy paper sleeve that wraps around the whole thing is obsolete. This is a cheap way to obtain three of Braxton's most popular albums. They include several hit singles, including "Un-Break My Heart," "You're Makin' Me High," "I Don't Want To," "He Wasn't Man Enough," "Spanish Guitar," and "Hit the Freeway." ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Ultimate Toni Braxton Play

Most modern-day female pop singers start their careers doing their sexy, stylish dance-oriented material then settle into a career as an adult contemporary crooner. Toni Braxton didn't follow that route. She started the '90s singing elegant, refined quiet storm ballads and ended it singing sleek dance-pop tunes as she slinked around in skimpy outfits. She wasn't the only one of her peers to follow this trajectory -- Mariah Carey pretty much did the same thing, only to the extreme -- but it's a little odd to listen to Braxton evolve from the sophisticated urban contemporary crooner to oversexed R&B thrush, even if it's not a bad thing at all. One thing that elevated Braxton above her peers is that she was a controlled, powerful singer who rarely oversang, and she had a good selection of material, much of it written or co-written by Babyface. That's why her 18-track hits collection Ultimate Toni Braxton works well even through her shifts in style -- she is a confident enough performer to sell both the slow romantic ballads and material that swings harder. That's not to say that there aren't some slow spots here -- the previously unreleased cuts are no great shakes, and sometimes the abundance of slow numbers makes things sound too samey -- but she was one of the top urban soul singers of the '90s, and this is the album that illustrates why. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
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