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Chaka Khan

In an era during which Christina Aguilera (no slouch on the vocals, but she still needs experience) and Amy Winehouse (whose troubled personal life gets in the way) are setting the standard for R&B excellence, Chaka Khan is back just when we need her.

Although she may have disappeared temporarily since her 1970s heyday and totally rad '80s popularity with the Prince-penned "I Feel for You," Khan on this latest CD proves she is the soul-rock diva for the ages.

Her new joint opens with the sweet "Back in the Day," which ably meshes down 'n' dirty '70s funk, under-the-streetlamp harmonies and a polished contemporary precision. Although it boasts a redundant title, "Foolish Fool" is a great example of soul straight from the Muscle Shoals school, while "One for All Time," with its combination of acoustic guitar and subtle synth, shows the neo-soul singers how it's done.

When Khan takes on Jimi Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand" or Prince's "Sign o' the Times," it seems just right. Then she amazingly finds a way to make Michael McDonald sound funky as she joins him for "You Belong to Me." And the hip-hop-meets-Aretha vocal blasts of "Disrespectful" are the perfect forum for Khan to team up with Mary J. Blige, who proves that though she might once have been a pretender to Khan's throne, she is hereby anointed as its heir.

But Khan isn't ready to step down yet. "Angel" is a terrific slow dance number that enthusiastically embraces an overheated, overblown jazzy R&B style. In it, Khan's melisma and vibrato put today's American Idol finalists to shame.

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