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Eric Benét - Hurricane
Produced by Eric Benet, George Nash, Walter Afanasieff, David Foster, and others.

Benét's third solo album comes after a long six year hiatus since the very good A Day In The Life and finds him in a very contemplative mood.  Recent events well chronicled in the tabloids have left him a shattered man but his pain is definitely our gain because this is a wonderfully crafted album of heart-stopping sincerity and is his best work yet.  The tempo never gets much faster than the beautiful "Pretty Baby" and "Where Does The Love Go" because catharsis is what's on Benét's mind and ballads to his lost love are where this album focuses and excels.  With the masterful production of super producers Walter Afanasieff and David Foster (where have these guys been?), the ballads are all beautiful and his voice has never sounded better.   My favorites include the beautiful old school "The Last Time" and the sweet "Still With You".  This whole album proves the lyrics from "In The End" true: "I know that life has a funny way of bringing out the best by bringing on the pain".  After experiencing Hurricane, you can only conclude that he must have messed up real bad if these wonderful songs couldn't help him win his love back.

By the way, the album also includes "I Wanna Be Loved", a song he had recorded with Earth, Wind and Fire but never saw the light of day (you can hear portions of it on the EWF DVD Shining Stars).  This version is just Eric Benét solo.  I kind of wish he had released the collaboration but this is still a wonderful track.

More 2005 Albums

Earth, Wind & Fire - Illumination
Various Producers
My favorite group are back this time using a formula Santana employed to mega-million sales on Supernatural - collaborating with today's hottest stars and producers to make an album more relevant for today's young audience.  The result is a really good album especially the collaborations with Raphael Saadiq (his duet with Maurice White on "Show Me The Way To Your Heart" is awesome), Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis ("Pure Gold"), and Brian McKnight ("To You" is the most faithful homage to EWF's past on the whole album).

KEM - Album II
Produced by KEM
I'm a huge fan of KEM's debut Kemistry and I prepared myself for a letdown with his follow up.  No need, his sophomore effort is even better than the first.  The lead off single "I Can't Stop Loving You" is clearly the best of a good set but also notable is "Heaven" where KEM shows off his vocal range and the uptempo "I'm Into You" which reminds me of Kemistry's "Brotha Man".

Lemar - Time To Grow
Various Producers
While waiting for a connecting flight at Heathrow, I was burning time in one of the fashion stores when I heard this wonderful song playing on their stereo.  I quickly went up to the cashier to ask who was playing.  She gave me a confused look for a second and said, "That's Lemar!" in a way that made it clear her confusion was how I could possibly not know who it was.  London born Lemar Obika (to Nigerian parents) is a self-proclaimed soul man as he declares on the lead off track of his second album Time To Grow.  Almost every song is a winner but I particularly like "Call Me Daddy" (the song I heard in Heathrow) about the pain of miscarriage; and the very funky "All I Ever Do/My Boo (Part II)" which sounds like nothing else.  Lemar is already a star in the UK and based on Time To Grow and Dedicated (which I also picked up), it shouldn't be too long before the US audience discovers what all the fuss is about.