To understand Sabrina Claudio and her new No Rain, No Flowers release, it’s important to understand the streaming-induced earthquake that has taken place in R&B over the last three years.
During the initial phase of the still-ongoing trap era, R&B was effectively on the ropes as a commercial proposition. But as streaming services revved up, codified their playlists and attracted millions of young listeners, R&B singers were thrown a lifeline. On mainstream radio, they had to duke it out with rappers who were frequently more blunt and more trendy. But in the tranquil world of popular playlists like “All the Feels” and “Love, Sex & Water” — tagline: “a spa for your soul” — the serene singer reigns supreme.
So a whole school of R&B acts, from H.E.R. to Daniel Caesar to Sonder, arose to fill this niche. In this new lane, a singer like Claudio can amass nearly 400 million streams across two tidy releases without anything resembling what they used to call a hit. She sings like dripping glass, flowing from note to note. Emotional histrionics were once R&B’s calling card, but Claudio prefers coolheaded de-escalation — why wail when you can sigh?
No Rain, No Flowers opens with a few of those sighs laid over plangent keyboards and pretty, understated bass; it’s an invitation to sink in, to join the singer in her languor. That’s where things stay for the next 28 minutes. This album is consistently suave, admirably steady.
But it’s also a little tepid. No Rain, No Flowers is obsessed with melody — Claudio is a master of ruffling and extending notes, dawdling in many shades of breathy, high-register singing — but frequently indifferent to rhythm. There are dashes of almost pushy cocktail funk and hissing hip-hop soul, and even a touch of vindictiveness on “Creation:” “His fingers never used to move that way,” Claudio sings, “so you’re welcome for the pleasure.” Still, the primary sensation imparted by No Rain, No Flowers is one of gentle drift.
It’s a soothing balm for whatever ails you, and the album certainly contains plenty of ammunition for a playlist like “Chilled Hits.” But when Claudio wonders, “did we lose our minds?” it’s unnerving: The unerring evenness of the music means you can’t tell. That is part of this sound’s appeal — and part of its drawback.