Why is this journeywoman R&B diva’s showcase superior to most, if not all, other items on the same shelf? Well, Special features unified production and songwriting: A single collaborator, Attala Zane Giles, coproduced, arranged, and wrote 10 of the 12 tracks. Also, unlike most artists who insist on coproducing, Vesta isn’t just protecting turf; she actually shares the spotlight, as on the hip-hop ”Don’t Trip,” featuring someone other than herself, rapper Mr. Lee. On the uproarious ”The Rib Joint,” a mainly spoken sketch about a hapless R&B singer, her experience as a stand-up comic even comes in handy — name another ”Call me Miss Ross” type with any sense of humor, let alone jokes that work. Still, the price of the album’s consistency is that Special never really soars. Clichéd lyrics and forced vocal phrasing bog down the ballads; if you don’t love ”Special,” a typically stilted ballad that’s already a big hit, you’ll find much of the rest downright tedious. The few dance tracks have a lot more life, though. If Vesta integrates her easy rhythm and playfulness into her torch singing, she’ll quickly evolve from journey-woman to genuine star. B

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