"We 'bout to make it hot for the summer, baby!," proclaims Missy Elliott at the beginning of Incomparable lead single "I Deserve It," which was officially released in late August. It was evidently intended for earlier impact, reached none of Billboard's charts, and didn't exactly scorch anyway. While those signs were all bad, Faith Evans' sixth proper album, which followed three months later, comfortably surpasses everything she released after 2005's The First Lady. Perhaps due to a combination of her reality television work, maturity, and the establishment of her own label, Evans sounds freer and more direct than ever, whether she's dealing with interpersonal or intrapersonal matters. The downside to that confidence and creative control is that the songs often sound disjointed from one another. These 16 cuts are more like a playlist of mostly good-to-great selections than a focused album; an '80s throwback trails a '60s throwback, and later, a traditional gospel-soul testimonial leads into a slick synthesizer groove. Scattered as it is, the album offers a lot to like. Best of all is the title track, produced by Brian Alexander Morgan -- right, the one who was behind SWV's "Weak" -- which rubberizes D Train's electro-funk classic "You're the One for Me" and is just as effective as Evans' past nods to Chic and the Jones Girls. ~ Andy Kellman
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- Smooth Jazz Tribute to Faith Evans (Various Artists)