Sultry Upscale Soul
Named after a Smokey Robinson song, the "Quiet Storm" radio format originated at Howard University's WHUR in the mid-1970s, and within several years became a staple of the nighttime airwaves coast to coast. The concept was simple: Quiet Storm was aimed expressly at lovers. It focused on low-key urban music, often ballads. Tune in, and you could count on hours of delicate aural seductions, sometimes undifferentiated vaguely jazzy sounds that flickered easily, like candlelight.
Plenty of artists (Luther Vandross, Lionel Richie) targeted the Quiet Storm format, but few nailed its tone and temperament the way Anita Baker did on her major-label debut, Rapture. The album quickly sold over a million copies, spawned several songs that remain Quiet Storm classics ("Caught Up in the Rapture," "Sweet Love"), and established Baker as a singer of uncommon poise and sophistication.
Rapture endures primarily because of the way Baker, a Detroit-based singer who grew up listening to Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and others, approaches the task of singing sweet nothings. While the reigning pop divas (Whitney Houston et al.) load every phrase with heaping helpings of pain, Baker hangs way back, letting her voice ooze over the subtle, at times sedate accompaniment. She sounds, throughout, as if she is caught up in a kind of deep bliss, a zone of feeling from which she can be candid about the wonders of the love she shares.
Even when she's talking about ecstasy, Baker is restrained—she takes her leisurely time with every note. Singing in this deliberate and unhurried way, she fulfills the romance requirement of Quiet Storm while aligning herself with João Gilberto, Billie Holiday, Roberta Flack, Miles Davis, and other masters of musical quietude.
Released: 1986, Elektra
Key Tracks: "Sweet Love," "Caught Up in the Rapture."
Catalog Choice: My Everything
Next Stop: Cassandra Wilson: Blue Light 'til Dawn
After That: Alice Russell: Under the Munka Moon
Book Pages: 39–40