Toni Braxton, Still Mining the Diva Groove

Monday, March 13, 2006

Gather all of the female R&B solo artists from the '90s and pile them up, in order of significance, and Toni Braxton would sit atop the giant mass of gleaming limbs and gilded throats with little company. Family life, Broadway gigs and a heart condition have kept Braxton from having a similar influence on the music of the current decade, but the Maryland-bred singer is working to rectify that.

Braxton has a current album, 2005's "Libra," and an accompanying tour, her first in almost 10 years. "I'm baaack!" she teased during her show at Constitution Hall on Saturday night.

The singer, now closer to 40 than 30, may have fallen out of favor with certain fans and radio programmers, but she showed herself able to keep pace with Amerie, Beyonce and their ilk while performing her latest single, the Rich Harrison-produced "Take This Ring." By exercising restraint, Braxton enhanced Harrison's work in a way that no single-monikered baby diva has been able to, tempering the frenetic, go-go-for-grown-ups track with sexy, hushed notes rather than trying to match it beat for heaving beat.

Afterward, Babyface's former apprentice settled into the Anita Baker-on-uppers style of her early work, including "Seven Whole Days" and "Another Sad Love Song" from her 1993 multi-platinum debut. Braxton showed off her versatility with a club mix of "Spanish Guitar," and her soundtrack showings: "Love Shoulda Brought You Home," her first single, used in the movie "Boomerang"; and "Let It Flow," featured in "Waiting to Exhale."

Braxton's mini-comeback was somewhat hampered by a microphone that did a poor job of picking up all of her throaty whispers, but no sound system could deny her bellowing finale of the super-ballad "Un-Break My Heart."

-- Sarah Godfrey

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