Review CD Spotlight

Gotta have faith

It's to Faith Evans' eternal credit that she refuses to be the Courtney Love of hip-hop. After the 1997 murder of her estranged husband Biggie Smalls, she had plenty of opportunities - a la Love - to make a public sport of her grief and promote her own career by shamelessly leaning on the legacy of her martyred husband. Instead, she's slowly established her own considerable voice on the contemporary R&B landscape, while Biggie's shadow has receded.

The First Lady, Evans' fourth album, represents her strongest mix of classic soul elements (electric piano, wah-wah guitar, lush vocal harmonies) and modern hip-hop-influenced beats. Like Mary J. Blige, another frequently embattled soul diva, Evans appears to have turned a corner in her personal life and found spirituality. Optimism suits Evans better than Blige, however, because it allows her natural warmth to shine through. For example, "Lucky Day" features a fairly rote "DJ play my song" lyric, but when Evans gets behind its jazzy groove with all her multi-tracked sexiness, all objections are swept aside. Similarly, "Goin' Out" is a familiar "hitting the town with my girls" manifesto, while the single "Again" offers the Blige-like message that whatever you endure makes you stronger. That being said, it's the way Evans puts across these ideas that makes her special.

The First Lady
Faith Evans
Imbued with the grit of a young Gladys Knight and possessing an impeccable ear for harmony, she doesn't hide her sophistication to play the coy ingenue. At a time when pop radio is spitting up moronic teases about "goodies in a jar" and "candy shops," Evans doesn't indulge in such nonsense. She's looking for solid commitment, putting love first but admitting that she's grown attached to her luxuries, and hoping that she doesn't "have to trade you to another team." And when she kicks up some dirt on the funky "Mesmerized," she earns the album's title.

Gilbert Garcia

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