Review

A protracted absence from the studio (a one-year release gap in the '80s was equal to a five-year gap in the early 2000s) caused by a notorious legal dispute with Motown did little to stall Teena Marie's momentum. Robbery, Marie's fifth album and first for Epic, didn't perform nearly as well on the pop chart as 1981's It Must Be Magic, but the devout black following remained, which obviously had no problem with Marie's discreet slipping of a little more rock and Latin jazz into her R&B. Epic wisely let their new acquisition do her thing -- it's the first album written completely by Marie, and the gradual development in her sound would pay off tenfold with 1984's crossover hit "Lovergirl." (Meanwhile, Marie's ex label was nurturing D.O.A. projects like Monalisa Young's Knife and High Inergy's Groove Patrol.) So is Robbery merely transitional? Not at all. While directing a rotating cast of support, including but not limited to the Average White Band's Steve Ferrone, go-to Brazilian percussionist Paulinho da Costa, and undervalued keyboard wiz Patrice Rushen, Marie comes up with a set of songs that rivals anything she did for Motown. There's a little bit of everything here. It's varied but focused, however, highlighted by the torrid mid-tempo groove "Midnight Magic," the club hit "Fix It," and a trio of excellent ballads in "Dear Lover," the particularly elegant "Casanova Brown," and one of the finest Minnie Riperton tributes -- whether intentional or not -- in "Shadow Boxing." Though the album contains some of the then up-to-date technology that flawed a lot of other albums released in 1983, Marie knew not to go hog-wild with it. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

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