CONQUERING LOVE & WAR
Words by: Gerren Keith Gaynor
Though she was first introduced to the world as Toni Braxton’s little sister, Tamar Braxton has quickly made a name for herself thanks to her larger than life personality, which is popularly displayed on the sisters’ show, “Braxton Family Values.” Considering her older sister’s already iconic status in music and a waned attempt at solo success in 2001, some may have doubted the youngest Braxton’s chances at superstardom. But Tamar’s lead single and title track, “Love and War” silenced the doubters and has since solidified her as a serious contender on today’s R&B roster.
The single’s old-school R&B flair and soaring vocal arrangements ignited burning nostalgia for true soul music and the days when the genre wasn’t overdone by the influences of hip-hop and electronic dance music. The Billboard charting single not only earned Tamar the right to be taken seriously, but also ushered her into musical terrain with today’s vocal greats. On the album “Love and War,” Braxton lives up to the hype that’s been generated from her television fame and explosive singles, including the Mtume “Juicy Fruit” and Notorious B.I.G. “Juicy” sampled track, “The One.” The 14-track album, which is executive produced by her husband Vincent Herbert and the legendary L.A. Reid, is a bonafide R&B collection, fittingly packed with tender ballads exploring the uphill battles of love and heartache.
Tracks like “All the Way Home” and “Stay and Fight” best illustrate the album’s theme of lovers being wedged between adoration and emotional warfare. Tamar admits such songs are the soundtrack to her once embattled marriage with Vincent, which was documented on their reality show, “Tamar & Vince.” “I want to stay and fight with you, fight until my heart is black and blue, fight ‘til there’s nothing left, not one single strand of the love we had,” Tamar passionately sings in the chorus of “Stay and Fight,” a slow and moving ballad. The majority of the songs on “Love and War” are timeless rhythm and blues tracks that effortlessly show off Tamar’s enchanting vocals. Though it’s hard not to hear the similarities with her older sister Toni’s signature inflections, Tamar’s vocal range transcends the Braxton name. On“Pieces,” which is written and produced by Bryan Michael Cox (Usher’s “Confessions”), Tamar’s voice is impressively powerful and elegant, and showcases her clean riffs and falsetto.
Braxton does, however, take some risks by switching up the pace with songs like “Tip Toe” and “One on One Fun,” which are alternative, up-tempo tracks where she ventures to keep up with the Joneses (Ciara, Rihanna, Beyonce). Unfortunately, they don’t exactly match the level of mastery displayed in her astounding ballads. Lyrics like “I don’t want my business on the Wendy Williams show” and “I’m your super girl and you’re the truth” are quite a departure from the rest of the album’s finesse. She does manage to pull it off on “Hot Sugar,” a sassy dance tune that best executes what is an obvious attempt at commercial success in the pop realm.
But Tamar is at her best when she sticks to the basics, like with “Where It Hurts,” and “Sound of Love,” a stripped down and sensual ballad where Braxton’s breathy voice is piercing and unmistakably mesmerizing. “Take me higher, take me ‘til I’ve had enough. Make me scream I’m all yours,” she sensually croons. It’s on tracks like these where Braxton proves not only can she hold her own, but that she can belt like the best of them.
In a climate where contemporary singers are reluctant to record ballad-heavy albums for fear of compromising sales, “Love and War” is arguably the strongest R&B album in years.Collectively, it is a cohesive body of work that will set a new standard in the genre. It’s clear that Tamar and company took their time with this project and the rewards will certainly pay off. Not since Beyoncé’s “4” (2011) has an R&B album contained this level of fervor and execution. For years, Tamar has fought to step out of the shadow of her older sister and become the breakout star she always wanted to be, and with “Love and War,” she’s finally earned her stripes.