Sade, Lovers Rock (Epic): Her music has never been extremely varied, but this smooth operator is one of those artists who doesn't need to be eclectic in order to maintain a listener's interest. After an eight-year sabbatical, Sade has returned with her vocal powers intact, and without any embarrassing "updates" to her sound. On Lovers Rock she sings about sexy, sweet taboos, crooning lovelorn lyrics with a melancholy voice that will mellow out the most hyperactively happy, but which will also uplift the most suicidal. The album's first single, "By Your Side," is perhaps the most beautiful song I heard last year, a work of unassuming grace and soothing warmth sung for the loneliest of the lonely. "When you're lost and you can't get back again/ I will find you darling and I'll bring you home," she sings in a wavering, nearly broken voice over a slow, simmering groove. — Kembrew McLeod

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