After building a reputation as one of R&B’s most forward-thinking vocalists over the course of her first three albums, Miki Howard showed even bolder stylistic advancements on 1992’s Femme Fatale, which weaves a thread through several decades of musical history. The album starts with a pair of sterling nods to Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington (“Good Morning Heartache” and “This Bitter Earth”) and eventually builds to “Release Me,” the toughest, most hip-hop-inflected song of this 32-year-old’s career. In between, Howard touches on gospel (“Shining Through”), bedroom R&B (“Ain’t Nobody Like You”), and blues (“But I Love You”). As if that weren’t enough, the album climaxes with a fat-bottomed rendition of Sly Stone’s militant stoner anthem “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa.” With her song selection, Howard suggested her voice could transverse generations, which was true. She put gospel feeling into modern R&B and in turn refreshed vintage styles. Both modern and timeless, “Cigarette Ashes on the Floor” is an ideal entry point to her sound.
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