Monday, January 7, 2008

Album Review: Mary J. Blige - Growing Pains

Mary J. Blige - Growing Pains

01 - Work That - Lyrically, this song is all about postivity and the courage to be yourself no matter what anyone thinks or has to say; I applaud her for that! Instrumentally, it samples something and I can't put my finger on it and it's driving me crazy. That being said, it's not the most catchy instrumental in world, but the emphasis here is less about the instrumentation and more about the lyrics. Vocally, it's a less rigid version of Mary. Rating: 3/5

02 - Grown Woman (featuring Ludarcris) - Definitely a track that automatically makes you bop your head! The bass driven, excited instrumental is nice! Sure to be a nice club hit without a remix! The Ludacris rap slows down the song, though. Taking out the rap, the song is awesome. Rating: 3.5/5

03 - Just Fine - This album, thus far, is surprisingly less "real and deep" than any of her previous efforts, and I'm glad that it's a lighthearted effort. This song is akin to the first song on the CD; another encouragment track that's slowly starting to grow on me since it's been everywhere since it's release. Her vocal delivery is quite reminiscent of the Jackson 5, IMO. Rating: 3.5/5

04 - Feel Like A Woman - Lyrically, I think this track is a tad beneath her; this would be better suited for Beyonce or Ciara in that regard because I think it's a tad juvenile. Instrumentally, its a nice mid-tempo groove that has a thumping drum beat and bass line that makes that head bop. It's definitely a filler track, but its one of those rare filler tracks that's actually listenable without skipping. Rating: 3/5

05 - Stay Down - This is vintage Mary. This is one of those filler tracks that could go either way--with enough promotion and hype it could be an actual single. The accompanying strings used are actually what make this song go forward. It has that early 90s mid-tempo groove feel. I quite like this track. Rating: 3.75/5

06 - Hurt Again - Very, very, very old school. Very neo-soul flavored, too instrumentally. This is just a solid track overall. Just a nice groove. Rating: 3.75/5

07 - Shake Down (featuring Usher) - Man, this is another solid track as well. She and Usher's voices blend very well together. Again, another overall solid track. A filler, but a listenable one. Rating: 3/5

08 - Till The Morning - This is a remake, and I think Mary brings a refreshing, updated feel to the track. It definitely retains it's old-schoolness and vibe and Mary is definitely true to it, but it's just new-school enough to make it valid today. I could do without some of the "back of the throat" vocals, but that aside... Rating: 3/5

09 - Roses - I think I heard somewhere that this would be the next single and I think she's gaging that on the 'realness' of the track as far as her monologue. While it's definitely a decent track, it's not single worthy, IMO. It's definitely a head bopper, but this is a song that is really for the hardcore Mary fans who feel like when she sings she's talking DIRECTLY to them, if that makes sense. This is a relationship advice song. Rating: 3.25/5

10 - Fade Away - Nothing special about this song except for the "Who Would Imagine A King" way it ends. Just okay for me. Rating: 2.5/5

11 - What Love Is - This is her first real solid ballad on the album, and although it's not a true ballad in the Whitney or Mariah sense, it is definitely a nice track. It's very mellow and the instrumentation is excellent. It's really a hip-hop ballad, meaning that the bass and clap track really carry the song forward. But the piano track used here is awesome and Mary is doing some serious singing toward the end. This is her next "Be Without You." Rating: 4/5

12 - Work In Progress (Growing Pains) - This is another mid-tempo groove and you can sincerely tell that Mary believes what shes singing. But this song samples some older song from the 70s that I can't quite place (heck, I was born in 1983, so my 70s music knowledge is severely limited). But she delivers a passionate vocal here without getting screechy or scratchy. Good job, MJB! Rating: 3.75/5

13 - Talk To Me - Another awesome filler track! I really like this track, especially the bridge! The instrumental has been done and done again and lyrically, it's typical Mary. But she's delivering some vocal passion and soul on this track. I really like this one! Rating: 4/5

14 - If You Love Me - Instrumentally, especially with the piano track, it's almost the second coming of "We Belong Together." That's where the simliarities end, not that this track is not a good track because it definitely is; maybe not as strong as "We Belong..." but still a good, solid, mid-tempo soul groove overall. Rating: 3.5/5

15 - Smoke - It has a really weird, write the drum-track on the down-beat type thing going on, which is really creative but takes away of what she's singing about. This song could have just been she and the synthesizer and it would have been one of the most strong tracks. Vocally, it's nice; not overdone. Rating: 3/5

16 - Come To Me (Peace) - I was really waiting on this track from all the love it got from everyone. Maybe it's just musical preference, because it's not my cup o'tea. That's not to say that it's a bad track; it just has that borderline pop-country/rock infused "but lets keep it soul" vibe that I just have never liked. But the vocal track is nice! Rating: 3/5

Overall Album Review:

Well, while this album doesn't top "My Life" or "What's The 411" in my book, it's definitely welcomed to join their ranks and that says a lot because the aforementioned albums are hip-hop classics, IMO. It's like my favorite Brandy album "Never Say N.E.V.E.R." in the respect that I can put it on and just let it play while I clean, while I cook, while I drive, whatever because it's just good music. It's a more directed effort than "The Breakthrough" which I kinda thought was just all over the board musically, lyrically, and instrumentally. This is her feel-good album and it definitely does that.

Would I recommend buying this album? If you like good, solid, soul music, then yes. She's almost (I said almost) abandoned her hip-hop roots here, but don't let her fool you; it's still in her and she brings it out on a number of tracks.

Overall Album Rating: 3.25/5
Chrisette Michele - I Am

01 - Like A Dream - If you put Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and Michelle Williams (Destiny's Child) voices (in that order) in a pot, melted them down, the result you'd pull out of that pot would be Chrisette's voice. Very neo-soul. There are a lot of jazz chords that she employs that very much work for she and her voice. This song is awesome, actually. The instrumentation seems to me like it samples something that I can't put my finger on, but lyrically it's been done before--as in, there was nothing really groundbreaking in the way the thoughts were expressed. But it's a solid track. Rating: 3.5/5

02 - Work It Out - The song starts out kind of slow for me, but once the chorus hits, it's no holds barred! I mean, the chorus drives this soul groove. Her lyrical interpretation is quite refreshing, especially in the current musical client when vocals aren't the most important thing. Instrumentally this is almost the second coming of Alicia Keys' "Fallin'." She really reminds me of a young Aretha on this track. Rating: 3.5/5

03 - If I Have My Way - The entire structure of the song reminds me of D'Angelo's, "How Does It Feel?" In fact, I'll go so far as to say that this is the female version of that song. At points, she sounds remarkably like Stephanie Mills; maybe it's just the her tones, but they definitely share tones. Very solid, easy listening, soulful, filler track. This song would never make it on today's radio, but would be a smash on Quiet Storm radio. Rating: 3.5/5

04 - Best Of Me - This is an alternative, soul track--something I'd expect to hear really from someone like Alanis Morisette or Sheryl Crowe. Really not my cup 'o tea. It's another one of those instrumentals that I don't like. But the bridge really saves this track because she begins to break out of the alternative mode and goes straight into jazz mode which I quite like. Rating: 3/5

05 - Your Joy - This acoustic only track I quite enjoy. For some reason, it reminds me of Erykah Badu's "Green Eyes" from the Mama's Gun album. That's strange because the songs are two different genres. But I think what makes me compare them is the emphasis on the lyrical content (which is AWESOME) and the vocals. Filler track, but an AWESOME filler track. Rating: 4/5

06 - Good Girl - I'm sorry to keep comparing songs, but this reminds me of Jill Scott's "Hate On Me" but just in the verses; the choruses are very dissimilar. I really enjoy her delivery on this song. This is a filler track, but it's another solid filler track. This actually could be a single--video only or radio only. Rating: 3.5/5

07 - Be Okay (featuring Will.I.Am) - I don't know which track they chose as the lead off single (I've yet to hear a single from her or see a video, for that matter) but if they've released anything other than this track, they're wrong. This is her "splash" onto the music scene. The instrumental is quite bland, but her vocals save it. Will.I.Am's rap also resurrects the song. This is quite a strong track and I like it. It's akin, lyrically, to Destiny's Child's "Survivor." Rating: 3/5

08 - Mr. Radio - Immediately, the song's instrumental takes you back to that mid-90s, slow-TLC's "Diggin'"/"Red Light Special"-kinda-groove. She sounds remarkably like Erykah Badu on this track. While this is a filler track, like her other filler tracks, it's not a bad filler track. It's actually quite, well, groovy. Rating: 3.5/5

09 - Golden - Song draws another comparision to a song I love so much: Lauryn Hill's "Nothing Even Matters" from the "Miseducation" album. It sounds like a 2007 version of that song to me. This song is just genius all the way around--instrumentally, vocal delivery, lyrically. Rating: 4/5

10 - Let's Rock - This is probably the least interesting and slowest song on the album. This is almost a speed bump on what's been an overall solid ride through her album. I just didn't care for the instrumental track and even the vocals seemed kind of tired and "something" to me. Definitely not the business. Rating: 2.5/5

11 - Love Is You - Nice piano only instrumental track and vocal performance! The lyrics are not overly complex, but with the content matter, they don't have to be. My only problem with this song is that it's not long enough! Man, if she didn't channel Billie Holiday singing this track.... Rating: 5/5

12 - In This For You - This is the soul version of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." Man, I only wish this had been serviced to radio while "Rehab" was big. This song would have clearly come out on top (and this is from someone who loves "Rehab.") The raw, passionate, sincere vocals make you believe that she's singing to you and you actually believe what she's singing. Man, excellent track! Rating: 5/5

13 - Is This The... - Very solid, soul track. Putting this on repeat now. Man, JUST LISTEN TO THAT INSTRUMENTAL! Rating: 5/5

14 - Bonus Track - Another very solid track. The harmonies are tight. The instrumental track is perfect and her vocal delivery is just perfect. I love it! Rating: 4/5

Overall Album Review:

Like Jill Scott? Erykah Badu? Aretha Franklin? Lauryn Hill? If so, then this will be a very welcomed addition to your soul/neo-soul collection. This album is probably one of the most overall solid efforts in R&B/Soul since Tamia's latest effort. Everything about this album is listenable, and surprisingly, there's only one weak track. This is definitely not for the hip-hop fan who wants the bass driven songs that could be turned into club hits. This is true soul singing, here. She's defintely made a name for herself in the neo-soul market, and I'll, without a doubt cop anything she releases from this point forward.

Would I recommend buying this album? Absolutely! But its all about the soul and all about the vocals coming from the soul here. If that's not your cup 'o tea, then stay far, far away from this album.

Overall Album Rating: 3.80/5

Album Review: Britney Spears - Blackout

Britney Spears - Blackout

01 - Gimme More - I don't own a Britney album, I just am a casual fan of her catchier hits. This, however, seems like a pitiful attempt to remain relevant in today's music scene. There's really nothing here vocally or lyrically . However, the beat is bangin' for the clubs. I just don't like the song, though. Rating: 2/5

02 - Piece of Me - "Whatchulookinat" and "Scream" meet Britney Spears. If you've heard one of these "the media is all up in my bidnizz and need to leave me alone" tracks, you've heard them all. Next. Rating: 1/5

03 - Radar - This is really reminiscent of something Rihanna would do; it reminds me of "S.O.S." Britney sounds really "kiddy" vocally on this track. I'm not looking for lyrical substance, so let's just ignore that this song has words and annoying refrain to match. Rating: 2/5

04 - Break The Ice - This is Britney's version of Madonna's "Music." A good dance, club anthem. I was just waiting for her to sing, "Ice, ice baby." It doesn't have that "Ice, ice baby" feel, but lyrically and the way she's delivering the chorus, it would be so appropriate. Rating: 2.75/5

05 - Heaven on Earth - Who the hell wrote for this album? This is a big, no remix necessary, club anthem. Not my cup o' tea. This song is actually too old for her; I hear someone like Cher or Donna Summers, in a desperate attempt to remain musically relevant, recording this. Next. Rating: 1.5/5

06 - Get Naked (I Got A Plan) - Awesomely oversexed. In some version, this instrumental track has already been used five other times on the album. The instrumentation is really trippy in a 70s kind of way. I wasn't even born in the 70s, but listening to my parents music when played, I get the same overall feeling hearing 70s music as I do hearing this. Out of sight! (LOL) This song is actually quite annoying. Rating: 1.5/5

07 - Freakshow - I was just waiting to chant, "Hey Mickey! You so fine, you so fine you blow my mind!" It's really reminiscent of "Mickey" just in a 2007 kinda way. This should actually be her next single. It's the strongest track on the album so far, although that's not saying a heck of a lot. Rating: 3/5

08 - Toy Soldier - If I hear one more track that sounds the exact same as every other track I've already heard, I'm gonna scream! Everything on this album is the same dag on beat, has the same chorus, and has the same delivery! Wait! Did she just bite off Destiny's Child, lyrically? DC sings: "I know some soldiers in here...they wanna take care of me." Britney sings: "I'm sick of toy soldiers; a boy who knows how to take care of me." Hmmmm.... Rating: 1.5/5

09 - Hot As Ice - Finally a change of pace--well, a marked change of pace. At any rate, this song is catchy as all get out. This should be her next single; hell, it's the only real single she has on the album anyway. It's like the 2007 version of "Toxic." Rating: 3.25/5

10 - Ooh Ooh Baby - Go to any basketball game and you can hear the drum track playing, with the crowd shouting to the beat, "Hey!" This track is nothing special, but it continues the change of pace for the album. However, the song is nothing special or even danceable. Rating: 2.5/5

11 - Perfect Lover - Instrumentally this is "The Way I Are" meets "Buttons" meets "FutureSex LoveSounds." This song is very sexy and seductive. This is another of the stronger tracks on the album; the vocal delivery is kitten like and lyrically, well, I said I wasn't going there. Rating: 3/5

12 - Why Should I Be Sad - This was the first real track on the album, and it's sad because it's like the ONLY decent track on the album that's completely it's own entity instrumentally and vocally (sort of). It's a bittersweet song, but Britney delivers in a way that only she can. Rating: 3/5

Overall Album Review:

I'm gonna keep this simple: download "Hot As Ice" and put on repeat for 8 repititions. There, you have the first 8 songs of this album. Then download "Perfect Lover" and "Why Should I Be Sad" and save yourself the overall disappointment of this "project."

Overall Album Rating: 1.75/5

Album Review: Alicia Keys - As I Am

Alicia Keys - As I Am

01 - As I Am - I'm a huge fan of instrumental tracks, especially piano tracks. Alicia knows she can play the heck out of that instrument! It's an all instrumental track and only a couple of minutes long, but before the rest of theW instrumentation comes in, it's pure magic; once the other accompaniment begins, the track loses the fire. Rating: 3/5

02 - Go Ahead - This is real funky (stylistically) but instrumentally, it's a fusion of "A Woman's Worth" and "Unbreakable." It's not groundbreaking at any rate; in fact, it's your typical Alicia Keys filler track (anyone who has any of her albums knows about these tracks). It's listenable, but is clearly not a favorite. The vocal delivery is typical Alicia Keys (and so are the lyrics for that matter). Rating: 2.75/5

03 - Superwoman - The chord progressions in this song are not typical (for me, anyway; I was singing the melody as I heard it and it wasn't matching what she was playing, which was totally unexpected). Vocally, this is nothing extremely special, but Alicia delivers this so softly and vulnerably that I actually believe what she's singing about. The track itself is nothing special, but her delivery and the instrumentation make this track work on many different levels. Rating: 3/5

04 - No One - Okay. I haven't liked this song since I heard it (but I have heard some people KILL this like it should have been done on youtube). Alicia is very nasal and throaty on this song (odd combination). This song is CLEARLY out of her comfortable range; she's a musician--lower the key of the song a half step; that'd make all the difference in the world. I don't like the instrumental track aside from the piano. It sounds very "homemade" if that makes sense; generic would be a good word, too. At any rate No One will get me to like this song... Rating: 2/5

05 - Like You'll Never See Me Again - You can't tell me that Prince didn't have SOMETHING to do with this track. It wreaks of him and his 80's flavor. It's oddly reminiscent of "The Beautiful Ones." Alicia tends to get throaty /husky on this song which should be vulnerable and sensitive the entire way through. Nevertheless, I loved this track when I first heard it. Despite it's minor vocal flaws, this song is a definite #1 hit. Mark those words. Rating: 5/5

06 - Lesson Learned - I didn't want to say it, but I have to: this song is the 2007 version of "Diary" in EVERY SINGLE WAY. If you've heard "Diary" you've heard this; well, "Diary" had much better vocals from Alicia. Rating: 3/5

07 - Wreckless Love - This is one catchy track! The instrumentation is really old school, but her delivery is so HOT! The arrangement is KILLER on this track. This song would not make it on radio, but it does have all the potential in the world to make it on radio. This song could work on radio; I said Mariah's "Shake You Off" wasn't strong enough for radio, so it just shows, you never know. This is one of those very strong, for the serious fans, filler tracks. I love it! Rating: 4/5

08 - Thing About Love - What I like about this track is exactly what I don't like about this track if that make sense. Alicia was clearly out of voice when she recorded this and she's singing through that. It's clear her vibrato didn't want to work with her, so she had to force it and you can definitely tell in the beginning. But what works for this is that the message of the song is so melancholy that it sounds like she's singing through tears and that's what makes this song genius vocally. The instrumentation is very big band and the tempo change was somewhat unexpected. However, this song is beautiful. Rating: 3.5/5

09 - I Need You - Don't like anything about this instrumentally, vocally, lyrically, or the arrangement. Rating: 2/5

10 - Prelude To A Kiss - Absolutely beautiful in every way! I'm just in love with this! Why this was simply a prelude astounds me! Rating: 5/5

11 - Tell You Something (Nana's Reprise) - The piano track is heavenly on this track. The vocal is heartbreaking, especially when you take into account the lyrical content. The only thing this song is missing is the money note after the last chorus. But the song is nice. Rating: 3.5/5

12 - Sure Looks Good To Me - Everything about this song works--the rawness in her voice, the rock feel, the lyrics, and the kind of spoken word breakdown. During the adlibs in the beginning, I could have sworn that P!nk was doing them. Rating: 4/5

Overall Album Review:

If you're looking for an equally strong effort behind "Diary" then keep on looking. This album is more of an artistic and creative expression than it is an effort to get a hit on the charts, and I applaud that. None of this album is really marketable to her core fan base in the hip-hop/R&B community, but she does have some strong AC and Alternative sounding (keyword: sounding) cuts on here that could further cement her crossover appeal. That all being said, Alicia was not in good voice while recording. Either that or she's developing nodules and needs to have that looked at. Her voice still has that sweet purity in it, but it's becoming heavier, huskier, more throaty, forced, and nasal, and I'd never really heard that from her outside of her "Unplugged" album and DVD.

This is really a throwback album to when music was music, but much of it seems a tad contrived at times. However, it is a solid effort. Would I buy this? Right now, I honestly don't know.  More than likely, yes.

Rating: 3/5

Album Review: Celine Dion - Taking Chances

Celine Dion - Taking Chances

01 - Taking Chances - For some odd reason she doesn't sound like Celine to me on this track; she sounds like some ordinary run of the mill singer. That Celine-ness isn't there. It's a solid vocal performance, though, with your typical alternative rock instrumental. I don't think this song is strong enough to be the title track, but it is a nice track. Rating: 3/5

02 - Alone - Celine is definitely channeling her inner rock n' roll spirit. Everything about this song is right. The vocals are done just right, not overdone. The instrumental track is rock but not too rock to also appeal to her AC crowd. This is just a really solid track overall. Rating: 3.5/5

03 - Eyes On Me - Another solid track, and should probably be her next single. This song just right enough to appease her AC round and possible rack up a couple of spins on R&B, Rock, and pop radio. There's nothing groundbreaking here instrumentally or vocally, but she takes what could be a lackluster track and embraces it. Her delivery is what really saves this song from being a dud. On a lesser singer, this song would fall flat. Good job, Celine! Rating: 3.5/5

04 - My Love - I've now come to accept that the Celine of the early 90's is gone. She's doing more of a rock thing with her music now, slowly edging away from her pop roots and I applaud the courage to make the change. What she hasn't edged away from is her ability to interpret a lyric; she carefully caresses each word and makes you as the listener believe what she's singing. Vocally, it's solid; vulnerable and sensitive at time. Instrumentally, soft rock. Lyrically, it has been done before, but Celine makes it refreshing with her interpretation. Rating: 3.5/5

05 - Shadow Of Love - I just don't like these kinds of tracks instrumentally. It's that upbeat rock/alternative sound and I've never been able to stand that; it just does something to me that makes me hate it. Sorry you all, I just couldn't listen. Those tracks are literally unlistenable to me despite everything else. Call me musically immature, LOL. Rating: 2/5

06 - Surprise Surprise - Again, vocally that Celine-ness is not there. I thought it was another singer altogether singing this track. Vocally, she definitely delivers, especially toward the end. She brings her money notes for the most part. Lyrically, for Celine, it's new for me to hear from her, but I like it. It's kind of edgy and in your face. Instrumentally, it has a pulse that drives it to a peak which is also what makes this song all the more likeable. Rating: 3.5/5

07 - This Time - That Celine-ness is returning on this track. This track is beautiful. Lyrically, it's so bittersweet, "You call this love? But this time, your lies are not enough!" She delivers a solid vocal performance, and the background vocal of "bum, bum, bum, bum, bum" is so refreshing in this track--makes the track very contemplative. Good job, Celine! Rating: 4/5

08 - New Dawn - It's a nice, soulful rock infused ballad. In fact, I take that back; it's more country sounding than rock sounding. The quality of her voice is so beautiful on this song. The instrumental is something that's definitely been done before, but this song's saving grace is Celine's beautiful interpretation. I'm really loving this track: Rating: 4/5

09 - A Song For You - No, it's not that "A Song For You" although it's probably just as bittersweet and heartwrenching as Donnie Hathaway's. She sings this so softly and it's almost as if she's holding back tears while singing. The piano/strings only accompaniment really works for this song because it forces you to focus in on what she's singing and the raw emotion in her voice. Excellent! I haven't heard a lyric interpreted this well in a while! Rating: 4/5

10 - A World To Believe In - For some odd reason, the opening instrumental bars had me ready to sing, "They say we're young and we don't know, we won't find out until we grow." Those two songs actually bear no similiarities whatsoever aside from the fact taht they share a few of the same notes instrumentally. While Celine definitely delivers on this song vocally, instrumentally most of the songs are starting to sound the same. Rating: 3/5

11 - Can't Fight the Feelin' - I swear this isn't Celine singing. There's not a part of this in the beginning that sounds like Celine to me; in fact, it sounds remarkably like Anastacia in the beginning. While this is an uptempo rock-infused instrumental, the song really bored me. It's a filler track, in my humble opinion. It's just a tad "been there, done that" to me. It's almost a rock version of, "Love Can Move Mountains" especially at the end. Rating: 2.75/5

12 - I Got Nothin' Left - This track definitely sounds like it was altered on the computer. I'd really like to hear this as recorded--so I had to take it to my music editing program and put it back where I thought she actually sang it in the studio. It definitely reminds me of "Because of You" by Kelly Clarkson instrumentally and in her vocal delivery, which is certainly not a bad thing. Good job, Celine. Rating: 3.75/5

13 - Right Next To The Right One - I really like the guitar only accompaniment used at the beginning then how it runs to a 70s inspired tempo and instrumentation. Vocally, it isn't groundbreaking, but her interpretation is key on this track and she does the writer mad justice. No big vocals, just Celine singing softly and vulnerably. Rating: 3/5

14 - Fade Away - Another big, uptempo rock track that has that "sound" that I tried to explain in track 5, "Shadow of Love." For me, it's just unlistenable, but someone else may love it. Rating: 2/5

15 - That's Just The Woman In Me - This is definitely a country inspired track and would do well on country radio. The raspiness in her voice on the chest voice notes is absolutely beautiful because it compliments the lyrical content. In fact, the overall raspiness she uses in this song is defintely needed! She has this Melissa Ethridge kinda raspiness going on, and I'm absolutely loving it. This is a Celine that you've never heard before. I love it! She took a chance vocally and it absolutely paid off! Rating: 4.5/5

16 - Skies of L.A. - Wow, she interprets the hell out of this song. Wow is all I can say. Rating: 5/5

17 - Map To My Heart - This the first big Celine ballad on the album and everything about it works--the big vocals, the big instrumentation, and the simple but effective arrangement. This is definitely a true favorite for me. Rating: 5/5

18 - The Reason I Go On - Another big rock ballad and it really works for her. This woman really knows how to live in her lyric and I truly admire that. The instrumentation is very sentimental, but the lyric has been done before. Celine just happens to bring something much different to this lyric than most singers have in the past with a simliar lyric. Rating: 3.75/5

Overall Album Review:

I must confess: I don't own a Celine album aside from her "Decade of Song" greatest hits album. Now, I've recently downloaded her entire back catalogue, but haven't had time to listen to it yet (heck, that's 58--yes, 58-- albums to listen to). This album portrays an entirely different Celine than the one on the greatest hits album. This is definitely not, "My Heart Will Go On" and "It's All Coming Back" Celine. This is the rock diva, with the tinge of rasp and grit in her voice and this genre really works for her. She defintely, well, is taking chances with this album and it pays off more than it falls flat. While much of the album sounds similiar instrumentally, it's her vocals and her way of caressing a lyric that saves the album and makes each song it's own entity.

Would I buy this album? Well, I'm not a rock/alternative kinda guy, so no; I'm just a casual listener of rock/alternative. But this is an overall solid effort and I'd honestly tell anyone who thoroughly enjoys this genre of music through and through to go pick it up.

Overall Album Rating: 3.90/5

Monday, October 1, 2007

Album Review: Mandisa - True Beauty

Mandisa - True Beauty

01 - Only The World - This track is not the track to open up a CD with; it has that filler track sound (you know that "sound") all over it. Everything about this song is wrong: the vocals, while stellar at the bridge, don't match the instrumentation; the background vocals are very lifeless--very robotic. This is something I expect from Jessica Simpson's first album. In fact, it reminds me of Simpson's, "I Think That I'm In Love". Rating: 2/5

02 - True Beauty - The song has a very positive message to it; very India.Arie, "I Am Not My Hair" meets "Video." A very self-esteem driven lyric, proclaiming to let the world see your true beauty. The instrumentation is lacking, yes; very Amy Grant. Again, the vocals kind of overpower the instrumentation. Not my favorite track, but could see major success on Christian radio. Rating: 2.5/5

03 - God Speaker - This has the same overall lyrical theme (while being a tad more Christian) as "What If God Was One of Us." Mandisa delivers this gem effortlessly and powerfully; CeCe Winans would be proud. The instrumentation, though, is kind of all over the place in spots as if she runs ahead of it or it falls behind her. It's not a bad track, though once the instrumentation finds its place. Rating: 3.5/5

04 - Voice of A Savior - This is very Stacey Orrico (when she was still a Christian artist) meets CeCe Winans. A rock based track, Mandisa delivers the song effectively without getting overpowered by the track. The message is beautiful and so true. It resonates with me on so many levels lyrically; it's a very thoughtfully written track, and although it's been done before, it's altogether refreshing to hear again. Rating: 3/5

05 - Love Somebody (featuring tobyMac & Diverse City) - This is her single from the album if a single hasn't been released yet. This, while instrumentally blah, is a definite hit on Contemporary Christian radio, definitely. It has a very 90's-tries-to-be-70's-contrived soul feeling, and while it doesn't work on any level, the song is definitely a hit for her. It's more of a song you hear on at the end of a movie while the credits are running. It's akin to Aretha's 90's semi-hit, "Deeper Love." Rating: 2.75/5

06 - Unrestrained - I'm not the biggest fan of contemporary Christian music, but I'll give it a chance if the message is right and I, on some level, can stand to listen to it instrumentally. Lyrically, it's true testimony of any believer and speaks to where my heart is with God right now. Mandisa goes straight into worship vocally on track! It's an awesome worship track and this would be the follow-up single to "Love Somebody" if her record company were smart. It's an AWESOME TRACK, especially if you adore worship! Rating: 4/5

07 - Shackles (Praise You) - Yes, it's that "Shackles (Praise You)" by Mary Mary. I couldn't even listen past the first 35 seconds. The background vocals and instrumentation ruined it for me. If you're gonna remake a song like this, you better do it better. No thanks, ma'am. Rating: 1.5/5

08 - (Never Gonna) Steal My Joy - Instrumentally, it's the second coming of that 80's joint that goes, "everybody wants to..." (can't remember the words, but I think Tears For Fears sings it). If it weren't for her vocals and the lyrical content, this song would be automatically skipped, but she adds a little gospel fire to the song that distracts me from the instrumentation. Rating: 2.75/5

09 - Oh My Lord (featuring The Fisk Jubilee Singers) - This is probably the second strongest track on the album. It has that old, traditional gospel feel and this could be what she services to gospel music radio and it would go very far. It's semi-acappella, and she's sanging on this tracks. The breakdown on the bridge is catchy and I love it! This will definitely be going on repeat! Awesome Mandisa! Rating: 4/5

10 - Only You - Another CeCe Winans flavored mid-tempo Contemporary Christian track that Mandisa delivers on! She does not disappoint. Her instrumentalists, however, leave much to be desired. Rating: 3/5

11 - He Will Come - This is a very soft and delicate encouraging track. She delivers a it, her vocals overflowing with hope and only a piano and it's the third best track on the album. No big vocals, just Mandisa passionately singing out to God and it's another gem. Rating: 3.75/5
Overall Album Rating:

I am a gospel boy at heart; in other words, I love that choir sound from The Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Choir and the Mississippi Mass Choir and gospel singers like Vickie Winans and Karen Clark Sheard. Rarely do I listen to contemporary Christian music, mainly because if I'm listening to gospel or Christian music I don't like studio tracks; I love live tracks with the congregation clapping, worshipping, and praising. Mandisa delivered a CeCe Winans flavored album which is not a bad that; I love CeCe. She just went a tad more contemporary Christian than I like, but the vocals are fire, the lyrics, while done in Christian music before are altogether refreshing, but her instrumentation is horiffic at times. It sounds very dated and sometimes even sloppy.

Would I recommend buying this album? If you love contemporary Christian music, you will love this album. Buy it. If you're more of a gospel boy like myself, I say download a few tracks and see if you like what you hear, then go from there.

Overall Album Rating: 3/5

Album Review: Keyshia Cole - Just Like You

Keyshia Cole - Just Like You

01 - Let It Go (featuring Missy Elliott and Lil' Kim) - I tried to listen to this song with virgin ears, but I couldn't; it's been overplayed and, despite that, I still like it. Missy worked her misdemeanor magic with this track from the beat to her interpolations. The only problem I have with Missy's beats and rap interpolations is that they are all beginning to sound the same. Vocally, it's a tad strained but it works for the song. Instrumentally, it's nothing unlike what's on Hip-Hop radio today. Lyrically, blah. Rating: 3/5

02 - Didn't I Tell You (featuring Too Short) - One problem I have with the hip hop generation is that every song is carried by a guest rapper or entertainer; not to say that it's a bad thing occassionally, but the first two tracks should not feature guests. The vocals on this song are a smooth and distracts from the horribly cliched lyrics; the instrumentation is a typical hip-hop beat--crashing bass and lots of high hat. There's nothing original or different about this song. In fact, this song is better suited for Monica, but Keyshia does not disappoint. Too Short actually takes away from the song. This, though, will likely be a single from the album. Rating: 2.75/5

03 - Fallin Out - She sounds oddly like Deborah Cox on this track. This is a nice, smooth R&B track that will never see the light of day on radio. I'm proud of Keyshia on this track; every time I've seen her live on television, she has a hard time staying in the key she began in (I happen to measure all singers by the standard of live delivery--if you can deliver live without lipsynching and not going sharp or flat, you've, at the very least, earned my respect) but she kept the melody and harmony "in the pocket." My only qualm with this song is it required, at least at the bridge, some big SANGING which I think Keyshia is unable to deliver. It, however, is a nice mid-tempo groove and she delivers it convincingly and beautifully. Rating: 4/5

04 - Give Me More - This is definitely a "Diary..." era Alicia Keys track instrumentally. In fact, she sounds remarkably like Alicia in this track right down to her delivery of the song. It has that nice old school vibe to it and that's what pulses this song forward. Keyshia delivers this song like a pro; nothing contrived or forced here. Lyrically, it's not original; it has been done before. But she does it in a refreshing manner; it doesn't feel as if it's been done to death before somehow. Good job, Keyshia! Rating: 3.5/5

05 - I Remember - Deborah Cox, is that you? I swear this girl has tones from Deborah and Alicia Keys alike. This is an excellent slow groove. She has a slight problem with enunciation, but that can be overlooked for her delivery on this song. This sounds like an updated version of "Never Gonna Break My Heart Again" (Deborah Cox). Keyshia delivers a passionately soulful vocal on this song; I only wish it were longer. Rating: 4/5

06 - I Shoulda Let You Go (introducing Amina) - This is a filler track, but unlike most filler tracks, it's actually listenable. This is the uptempo follow up to "I Shoulda Cheated." Same message lyrically. Only the instrumentation differs, but the song is even in the same key as "I Shoulda...". Nothing special. Rating: 3/5

07 - Heaven Sent - Instrumentally this sounds like an updated mixture between Monica's, "Angel of Mine" and TLC's "Unpretty." This is an excellent track! The arrangement is beautiful. Keyshia needs to learn to interpret what she's singing though; she delivers an excellent vocal, there's simply no life in her delivery. Rating: 3/5

08 - Same Thing (Interlude) - Nice for an interlude. Again, she's falling into that traps of not interpreting what she's singing; excellent vocal, just no life in it. Luckily, I'm a vocal kinda guy... Rating: 3/5

09 - Got To Get My Heart Back - This is her Mary J. Blige track; sounds like it came off of Mary's, "Love & Life" release in every way. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Mary turned this track down at one point. There's absolutely nothing special about this track or even remotely memorable about it. It's a filler track. Instrumentally, it's blah. Vocally, the same. Lyrically, nada. Rating: 2/5

10 - Was It Worth It - Skip this track. The songs seem to be getting progressively worse as the album goes on. Everything is beginning to sound the same--her adlibs, her lack of interpretation, the melodies, the harmonies, the same tired beats... Rating: 2/5

11 - Just Like You - Okay, it's getting on my nerves at this point! The delivery of each song has become the exact same. There's no living in the lyric, no build up, no nothing. The instrumentation is the same. The lyrics are cliches. It's irritating. And this is her gospel track, too...I'm a gospel boy and this ain't it...leave it to Kierra "KiKi" Sheard, Keyshia. Next. Rating: 2/5

12 - Losing You (featuring Anthony Hamilton) - They lost me the first 20 seconds of the song. There's nothing more that I despise than sampling the vocals of an old school classic then making it sound like one of the Chipmunks or Chippettes are singing it. Turn on R&B radio at any point during the day and you'll hear something mid-tempo that sounds like this. Next. Rating: 2/5

13 - Last Night (featuring Diddy) - It's getting painful now. I'd heard the song before and I liked it out of the context of the album. But now I hear it in the context of the album and how the last 3-4 tracks have been delivered the same way with the same adlibs and the same inflections, this song does absolutely nothing for me. Instrumentally, it's very 80s, but vocally it's tired. Rating: 2/5

14 - Work It Out - Sounds very "The Writings on The Wall" (Destiny's Child). It sounds a bit dated, but she actually does her thing on this track for the most part. I'm trying to get over the fact that her delivery is the same in each track. Rating: 3/5

15 - Let It Go (remix - featuring TI, Missy Elliott, and Young Dro) - It's your typical remix when one set of rappers think they can make the song hotter than the original set of rappers. Next. Rating: 2/5

Overall Album Rating:

There's no doubt that Keyshia can sing--at least on CD. I have yet to see her deliver live as a true singer (i.e., staying on key, not becoming pitchy, not straining every vocal, etc). But she delievered a strong 8 tracks. The rest of the album is simply filler and it even sounds as if Keyshia wasn't feeling singing it; every song and track began to sound the same which is unfortunate because this could have been a great 12 track album if she had got rid of some of the junk and found four more solid songs that match the first 8. I don't know how this album will perform or fare with her younger fanbase; there's a far more mature sound on this album and that works to her advantage, at least in my humble opinion.
Would I recommend buying this album? No. I say, join and download the first 8 tracks for .99 cents a track.
Overall album rating: 3/5