Anita Baker is back with 'Everything'

Album, 'My Everything,' is her first in 10 years

Music: In Concert, CDs

September 09, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Anita Baker had been away long enough. It really hit her about a year ago when she noticed that everybody else at home seemed to always have something to do, someplace to go.

"The boys have their own social lives now," the singer says about her sons, Walter, 11, and Eddie, 10. She's calling from her Detroit home. "They're going to the gym with their dad, off to a game, a practice, a sleepover. And I'm standing in the kitchen like, 'What do I do?' I don't want to be one of those mothers who wait for the men to come back home. I had to pick up my career."

Baker's last album came out 10 years ago: 1994's Rhythm of Love, which featured the hits "Body and Soul" and "I Apologize." Now, the eight-time Grammy winner with the unmistakably slurred vocal style and smoked-honey tone has returned with a new set, her sixth overall and first for the Blue Note label: My Everything. Released Tuesday, the CD is an extension of the jazz-infused urban soul fare that catapulted Baker to superstardom in the 1980s. The lyrics are romantic; the overall sound radiates a luxurious warmth. Baker's approach is more relaxed now, smoother, assured. Fans of her classic albums -- The Songstress (1983), Rapture (1986) and Giving You the Best That I Got (1988) -- will enjoy the new effort.

Baker has invested more than 20 years in the business, has scored platinum several times over. Even The Best of Anita Baker, a retrospective Rhino Records released two years ago with minimal publicity, went gold. But a whole decade has passed since anybody has heard a lush note from her. And pop music, typically dismissive of veteran acts, has changed many times since then. P.Y.Ts (Pretty Young Things, you know) with overdone vocals, hair and makeup -- Ashlee and Jessica Simpson, Beyonce, etc. -- are running things in pop, so it seems.

Surely Baker is nervous about her return.

"Oh, I'm always nervous," she says. "Before I go on stage, before I do interviews, I'm nervous. At 46, I've come to understand that that's adrenaline. It's a rush for me. That's how I know that I'm alive. Coming back to the music now, I'm really not that worried about competing with what's out there, because I've always been a little to the left. I've never had a No. 1 [pop] record or album. I've always done what I do. But I think there's a whole segment of adult listeners out there that the industry has overlooked. They want choices too."

According to LAUNCH!, the music destination on Yahoo, Baker's core audience has always been women ages 21 to 44. That demographic dominated the string of national shows Baker did last year, including a thrilling one at the 1st Mariner Arena last June.

"Signing to Blue Note Records may yet expand Anita Baker's audience into the jazz world," says Jay Frank, head of label relations at LAUNCH! "But it's her core audience of older R&B female fans that are jumping at her latest release."

During her hiatus, Baker took care of home ("I insist on dinner together at the table or on the living room floor or wherever we are. It's my personal ritual.") and dealt with some major challenges. Her parents and the woman who raised her all died, and the artist almost divorced her husband. But after she went through the grieving and mended the ripped parts of her marriage, after she realized that she was the only one in the house whose day wasn't full of activities, Baker decided to open herself to music again. She called her agent, booked a few shows, got a band together and was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic responses she received at sold-out performances in New York, Las Vegas and other cities. Folks still wanted to hear her. Baker felt rejuvenated, and the muse had come back.

She called Bruce Lundvall, the CEO of Blue Note Records.

"I love their ethic: Let's do what we can do effectively and let's do it cool and good," Baker says of the label whose roster includes Dianne Reeves, Van Morrison and Norah Jones. "Something just whispered in my ear and I called [Blue Note]. There were no lawyers, no managers. We eventually set up a meeting, though. I never like to have business people between me and the company in the initial meeting. I like to know who I'm going to be working with. There has to be mutual respect."

The label has launched a worldwide campaign for My Everything. The first single, "You're My Everything," has spent five weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's airplay monitor adult R&B chart. Co-produced with longtime collaborator Barry Eastmond and mixed by the great George Duke, the album is a return to form for Baker: Ten rich, organic ballads and mid-tempo joints her fans have waited long enough to hear.

"Something happened to me at 45," Baker says. "I don't know. It was like a calm, a peace that came to me. I think it was a result of living at my parents' bedside when they were passing on -- that going from daughter to matriarch. But I've accepted where I am, and it feels good. I have nothing to complain about. I am very much at peace."

Hear Rashod Ollison on the radio, Tuesdays at 1 p.m. on Live 105.7 and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on WTMD-FM 89.7.

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