Chaka Khan 

Funk This

In an era during which the standard for R&B excellence is being set by Christina Aguilera (no slouch on the vocals, but still needs experience) and Amy Winehouse (whose troubled life gets in the way), Chaka Khan is back just when we need her. Though she temporarily disappeared since her 1970s heyday and '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.

The opener, "Back in the Day," ably meshes down 'n' dirty '70s funk, under-the-streetlamp harmonies, and a polished contemporary precision. "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, Khan's heir. "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 American Idol finalists to shame.

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