Stars: 4/5

Last year saw rising superstar Anderson .Paak release his first full-length in roughly two years, the sprawling funk odyssey “Oxnard.” And although the album was a welcome return from one of music’s brightest, one couldn’t help but wonder if the man who made a life off the blue-eyed facets of soul music of yesteryear abandoned his niche for good.

With his quick follow-up “Ventura,” the artist makes his triumphant reappearance as a romantic crooner and mover of the heart and makes another memorable entry in his already esteemed discography.

It was clear from the release of “Oxnard” that .Paak wanted to move away from the expansive and ambitious themes of his project and wanted to fall back into the classic traits of his 2016 release “Malibu,” still to this day one of the decade’s defining segues into neo-soul and funk.

And from the first few seconds, you can tell the direction .Paak wanted to go.

In opener “Come Home,” Andy releases his silky-smooth cadence over a brisk percussive strike and a cluster of brass. The song only develops from there, with a backing chorus providing additional firepower and a verse from ex-OutKast member and demigod André 3000, who burns the house down in an assault of jaded triplets and a legendary flow.

Things only get more intimate with standout “Make It Better,” in which .Paak enlists soul icon Smokey Robinson to observe the pains and pleasures of love.

“Do you want to stay together?” sings .Paak.  “Hey, if you do / Then let’s please / Make some new / Memories.”

The smooth neo-soul environment that is cultured throughout “Ventura” only continues to blossom through tracks like “Reachin’ 2 Much” and “Chosen One,” which enlist some of R&B’s up-and-coming artists like Lalah Hathaway and Sonyae Elise to put the listener in "that" kind of mood.

But what made everyone love “Malibu” so much was its diversity, and .Paak follows suit throughout the album’s concise 40 minutes of run-time. From the anthemic, dance-like-nobody’s-watching euphoria of “King James” to the breathless rapping ability displayed by .Paak on “Winners Circle” and “Yada Yada,” “Ventura” is never stale.

When .Paak and Nate Dogg close up shop on “What Can We Do?”, there’s a good chance you could tap the play button all over again.  “Ventura” is nothing but a joy to listen to, a celebration of .Paak’s blossom into a star and the beautiful love that we all share in this world.

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