Her debut, "All By Myself," was a potent warm-up, and "Stay With Me" was a sophomore effort of high order. But Regina Belle's third release, "Passion," showed her poised to join the ranks of Anita Baker as one of contemporary R&B's most stylish and sophisticated singers.
"Quiet Time" and "The Deeper I Love" are sharp and mature soul exercises, giving Belle an opportunity to wrap her silky voice around romantic claims amidst gently-flowing Quiet Storm grooves. "Passion" and "Tango in Paris" manage to pick up the pace and venture into the realm of pop without compromising artistic integrity, but the lush ballad "Love" and a slick cover of Billie Holiday's "My Man" prove that Regina is capable of the most mature of musical outings. Weak moments are few: the gospel-flavored "Dream in Color" features a decent vocal but still ends up sounding routine, while "One Love" is a pedestrian exercise in world-peace-themed pop.
But the biggest crime of "Passion" is that "A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme)" didn't do the same thing for Belle's career that "Beauty and the Beast" did for Celine Dion's. Dion's duet with Peabo Bryson is the song that truly got her career off the ground, and the Canadian diva went on to become a multi-platinum singer of movie hits and pop classics. Sadly, even with Belle's pairing with Bryson becoming a #1 pop record, Belle's post-Disney success was still relegated to the R&B charts, with crossover success wrongly out of reach. Then again, if a gorgeously-produced and perfectly-performed album is any consolation, then "Passion" is all the reward Regina will ever need.