November 25, 2002 12:00 PM

Toni Braxton (Arista)

Some might accuse Toni Braxton of nepotism on this, her fifth album. Her husband of 19 months, former Mint Condition keyboardist Keri Lewis, cowrote and had a hand in producing four tracks, while her younger sister Tamar Braxton cowrote six songs and sings backup on the entire CD. Keeping it in the family, though, brings out the best in Braxton here. Lewis crafted this disc’s stunning highlight, “Lies, Lies, Lies,” a dramatic, he-done-me-wrong ballad with mostly live instrumentation (including rock-charged guitar) and a terrific background vocal arrangement featuring the Braxton sisters. It’s an instant Toni classic, right up there with “Breathe Again,” “Let It Flow” and “Un-Break My Heart.”

Although the rest of the album doesn’t quite match that quality, it’s still easily More than your average R&B-pop fare. Braxton smoothly shifts from lush, romantic slow jams, such as the dreamy “Rock Me, Roll Me,” to trendy, hip-hop-conscious numbers like the Spanish-guitar-laced “Me & My Boyfriend” (featuring a sample from the late Tupac Shakur’s 1996 cut “Me and My Girlfriend”). Through it all, her sultry, husky alto shines as she bends and jazzily twists notes with that special Toni touch.

BOTTOM LINE: A worthy Woman

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