Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Chaka Khan: Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan Volume One [Reprise, 1996]
Of her enormous gift there's no question--not just a sumptuous voice, those are commonplace, but sonic character. She sounds somehow nasal, sensuous, and "trained" all at once, like Sarah Vaughan with adenoids, and also with the rhythmic hots. On her great Rufus tracks (cf. MCA's best-of) Khan was uninhibited enough to sing funkier than any woman since. But though the solo "Ain't Nobody" and "I'm Every Woman" and "I Feel for You" top "Once You Get Started" if not "Tell Me Something Good" (wisely reprised live here), too often she's striven toward vacuity, as on the "five new songs" her label stickers so proudly--when she signs on with David Foster or asks Arif Mardin to do up a ballad for her, I remember that her voice also reminds me of Heatwave's synthesizer. But Luther Vandross, Melle Mel, Bird 'n' Diz, even Billie Holiday--these tributes and collaborations she's been equal to. Makes you wonder. A-