Mint Condition

Like all Mint Condition albums, E-Life (Image) starts and ends strong, with a gooey center—the authors of 1991's "Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)" would disappoint fans if they didn't include at least one or five bedroom-R&B showcases for Stokley's sharp and graceful melisma. I wouldn't have picked or guessed "Nothing Left to Say" to be a single, but as of this writing it hovers in the Billboard "Hot Adult R&B Airplay" Top Ten, so what do I know? Still, skip to track 10, past the experimental drum-n-Prince misfire featuring Ali Shaheed Muhammad (which at least shows ambition intact), and hear what Minnesota's greatest R&B band does best without seeming to half-try: "Back and Forth" is handsomely mounted art-R&B but with hooks, like the peaks of 1999's Life's Aquarium (Elektra) and most of 2005's slept-on indie Livin' the Luxury Brown (Image)—what some of us hope D'Angelo will deliver when he's through worrying about being a genius. Then start at the top again, and notice how the lead cuts—one with Anthony Hamilton, the other with Phonte from Little Brother—could be hits, too, and are just as rich. This "live" group doesn't age at all, even if the conceit of the title and the band-on-a-BlackBerry cover art seem sweetly trying-to-keep-up. It's a rare Thanksgiving treat to have them home for the holidays. With America Idol finalist Paris Bennett. 21+. $25. 8 p.m. 107 Third Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.465.0440.
Fri., Nov. 28, 8 p.m., 2008

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