Toni Braxton Sex & Cigarettes

Toni Braxton Sex & Cigarettes
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If her recent engagement to Birdman and the cover art — her lingerie tips a hat to her racy 1997 Vibe layout — were any indicators, it would appear that Toni Braxton was turning a new corner and embracing the possibilities and pleasures of romance on her ninth album.
 
Yet, like Mary J. Blige, pain and heartbreak are inescapably right in Braxton's wheelhouse. So it is with Sex & Cigarettes. "You've got me down, but I'm not out," she sings on the acoustic-tinged opener "Deadwood," exuding a heartrending vibe that doesn't wane during the album's eight tracks.
 
The smoldering indignation of "FOH" stings like a raw nerve and the tormented regret that belies the hypnotic bounce of "Sorry" are particularly strong examples of the now 50-year-old Braxton's elegant, cognac-smooth vocals that haven't weakened in the face of age, lupus, financial difficulties and reality TV drama.
 
Even lesser cuts like "My Heart" (featuring Colbie Caillat), which  suffers from overly melodramatic production and the trite, tropical house excursion of "Missin'" are rescued by Braxton's heartfelt delivery. While not a classic, Sex & Cigarettes is a solid effort from R&B's true queen of heartbreak. (Def Jam)