20 Best R&B Albums of 2014

The year in tough lovers, elusive chanteuses, purple royalty and more

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Kelis, 'Food'
20
7/20

7. Kelis, 'Food'

Nobody comes to Kelis for simple sustenance, and though her sixth album is the singer's most musically traditional — recasting brassy R&B, funk and Afrobeat — it's still driven by her aching-for-more uniqueness (and the meticulously nuanced production of TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek). "Cobbler" slides into a taut, sultry groove, but deftly ascends to a new key as Kelis proclaims, choir-like: "You…make me hit notes…that I never sing!" And while the ballad "Floyd" floats sparely on organ and bass clarinet, she tenderly demands, "I want to be blown away." Food is intriguing whether it broods or meditates, and a faithfully lovely acoustic cover of Labi Siffre's 1971 folk-pop plaint "Bless the Telephone" is downright touching. Though the song titles reflect her graduation from culinary school, Kelis has never sounded more committed to her first craft. "Welcome to the world/This is the real thing," she rasps on gospel-soul gem "Breakfast," and you believe every scratch in her voice. C.A.

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