Giving You The Best That I Got

Anita Baker

Elektra, 1988

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anita_Baker

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/13/2020

Born in Ohio in 1958 and raised in Detroit from an early age, the fabulous Anita Baker started out singing in Detroit’s clubs as a teenager were she was discovered; by the mid ‘70s, she found her way singing for the funk band Chapter 8. Baker’s chance at “making it,” however, seemed short-lived as by the decade’s end, Chapter 8 was dropped from their label following a buyout by Arista and Baker found herself working as a waitress and biding her time once more.

A second chance came about thanks to Otis Smith, an associate at her former label who had branched out on his own. Still enamoured with Baker’s voice and potential, he encouraged her to sign up with him and record an album. Baker’s debut album The Songstress was released in 1983 and found moderate success; however, the relationship between Smith and Baker soured mainly due to a royalty dispute which made its way to court and saw the artist eventually win her freedom to record elsewhere. Baker found a new home at Elektra and released her second LP Rapture in early 1986, which started its initial run as somewhat of a sleeper. It gained critical praise, but sales were slow to take off.  

Eventually, though, by the year’s end, it was one of the hottest albums out, there spawning some major hits in “Caught Up In The Rapture” and “Sweet Love.” Baker spent the best part of eighteen months on the road with The Rapture Tour, which played almost two-hundred shows, and following a short break, she set to work on recording the all-important third album. Released in late 1988 and again produced by Michael J. Powell, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Giving You The Best That I Got solidified Baker’s reputation as one of R&B’s finest vocalists and cemented her continued success on the charts.

Musically, the record shifts effortlessly between expressions of jazz, blues, and pop, all the while allowing Baker’s stunning, smooth voice to remain the star of the show. From the get-go, Baker was always assured of her talent and confident in her approach. To this day, she has never sold out nor embarrassed herself by chasing current trends. Whether it’s the joyful opener “Priceless” or the moody closer “You Belong To Me,” Baker handles the material with ease; her phrasing has always been exceptional, of which these are fine examples.

The title track was the first of three singles to support the record and it was a wise choice. It’s one of the more bluesy songs that peppered Baker’s albums at time, and her performance here again is perfection. “Just Because” was the second single and this one, although a beautiful song, is more in-line with the contemporary sounds of the day; however, it’s more soulful than anything Whitney Houston was recording at the time. “Lead Me In To Love,” the third and final single lifted from the record, is really the only weak cut to be found here. It’s a sweet piano-led ballad that just fails to impress as strongly as the rest of the material surrounding it.

The seductive “Good Love” would have been a better choice as it’s the most stylish and unique track on the record. Baker would later explore jazz more intently on following projects, but the effort here with “Good Enough” is proof enough that she has the chops to match it with the best of them. Baker’s voice shines again on the funky “Rules” that is lyrically a little edgier, which gives her a chance to throw a bit more fire into the mix – it’s another highlight.

It’s hard to believe there was a time when R&B was a wholly original genre, as today it has suffered the same fate as most modern pop – predominately the fact that the very tricks and trends that some truly original artists employed to spice up both worlds has eventually hampered their progress. Baker was never tempted to go down that road, however; she has remained true to her craft and her live shows remain celebrations of soulful and passionate old school R&B. Giving You The Best That I Got remains one of Baker’s finest efforts and a perfect example of how intoxicating mature, sophisticated soul music once was.

Rating: A-

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