Before hip-hop sirens like Mary J. Blige and Faith Evans set the new female soul standard, Belle ruled the R&B roost. This Is Regina illustrates that she still has the flair and technical chops of

Before hip-hop sirens like Mary J. Blige and Faith Evans set the new female soul standard, Belle ruled the R&B roost. This Is Regina illustrates that she still has the flair and technical chops of a true diva. Teaming with studio vets like Barry Eastmond and Sam Sims, Belle doesn't try to play on a kiddie musical field. Rather, she wisely sticks to the kind of old-school ballads and sleek classic-funk shufflers that made her famous. It's a risk that could have left her sounding quaint and out-of-time. But, as evidenced by the deliciously romantic "Oooh Baby" and

the percussive, blues-kissed "Take My Time," Belle enjoys the opposite result; she sounds fresh and downright innovative. Isn't it sad that good old-fashioned belting and traditionally crafted tunes can be considered a break from the norm? Racked by Concord.—LF

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