Michael Kiwanuka, Love & Hate © Interscope

Don’t Sleep On Michael Kiwanuka!

Too often, we get comfortable as music listeners. By comfort, we prefer the ‘same old things’ or we get caught up in trendiness. Trendiness and conformity don’t allow us to become more multidimensional music listeners.  Commercial music, hence, ruins us sometimes.

Okay enough ranting, what’s the point Brent? British R&B singer/songwriter Michael Kiwanuka rarely graces dinner table conversation.  He should, even if you’re asking yourself Who is he?  With R&B as “cool  as the coolest of cucumbers,” this dude can sing. Not only can he sing, he writes meaningful songs and uses real instruments.  There was a time where an album like Love & Hate would be more common, but alas, this deep, thoughtful LP is now the exception.

Tired of conformity? Join the movement of the exception my friends. To quote Anthony Hamilton, “the doors of the church are wide open.” Not quite the same context of the song “Take You Home” or of the invitation given the by the pastor, but hopefully you catch my drift.  Need a guide to delve into this deepness? Check out my passionate thoughts on Mr. Kiwanuka’s awesome sophomore album, which includes highlights like “Black Man in a White World.” 

Michael Kiwanuka assembles a superb effort with sophomore LP Love & Hate. The singing, songwriting, and production are top-notch. The post Michael Kiwanuka Shines on Sophomore LP ‘Love & Hate’ 6 more words

via Michael Kiwanuka Shines on Sophomore LP ‘Love & Hate’ — The Musical Hype

Photo Credit: Polydor UK
Fantasia, Ugly © RCA

Thoughts: Fantasia, Ugly – Single

Not to relive the American Idol Series finale, but among new singles trapped in an overstuffed two-hour concert was Fantasia’s new single, “Ugly.” Yes, “Ugly” had to compete with a catchier, if ‘soon-to-be-forgotten’ new single from Jennifer Lopez (“Ain’t Your Mama”) among others, but arguably, “Ugly” might be worth a second look, even if it seemed ‘odd’ in the context of the show. In other words, give Fantasia’s latest a chance.

Is “Ugly” the second coming? Nope. BUT, what is respectable about this song is that there’s more of a pop and singer/songwriter vibe, something that we haven’t necessarily heard from Fantasia throughout her underrated career. This is not that catchy radio song that’s going to necessarily make Fantasia a pop star – she’s clearly an R&B gal – but this is a pop-oriented R&B song that has the right formula to get pop airplay. Confused yet?

Now to address the elephant in the room – will “Ugly” breakthrough? Probably not, but the potential is there because it’s a different look/sound for Fantasia. She’s still soulful, but the poise and restraint are a nice contrast. Furthermore, the fact she finally reaches a fever pitch is just a further testament to the ‘gifts’ given by this unlikely candidate. It won’t be for everybody, but give it a few spins – there’s something here.


Fantasia • Ugly – Single • RCA • Release Date: 4.7.16

Rachel Platten, Wildfire © Columbia

Rachel Platten Is a Brave Soul…

Rachel Platten, Wildfire © Columbia

Rachel Platten is a brave soul. No, not because of her “Fight Song” or the fact that she’ll “Stand By You,” but because her major label debut album Wildfire was released on New Years Day. The question that this curious music journalist has for Columbia Records is why release Wildfire on New Years Day when no notable albums are released?

Years back – 2010 to be specific – a burgeoning artist named Ke$ha released her Animal within the first release week of January, but not New Years Day (January 5). The same can be said of rap duo Rae Sremmurd back in 2015, with SremmLife dropping on January 6. Both albums performed well considering how slow January tends to be. Also of note, both albums had hits which helped their lot – Ke$ha in particular. Again, it can’t be reiterated enough that holiday release dates are usually avoided.

A perfect example of an instance where a holiday album release failed to pick up significant traction is FabolousThe Young OG Project. The Young OG Project dropped Christmas Day 2014, and only mustered up a #12 debut with 71,000 units. Those numbers aren’t abysmal, but the album didn’t go too far. That said, the question is, how much of 71,000 units is attributed to the fact that Fabolous is an established artist?

So let’s look at Rachel Platten’s status. “Fight Song” was a big hit for Platten (peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100), but has understandably lost its luster because it’s been out for a minute, no longer residing on the Billboard Hot 100. “Stand By You” is just picking up steam, though as of the penning of this article, it sits at #66 on the Billboard Hot 100 (it has peaked at #61 as of yet). So, how much do singles propel Wildfire?

Maybe the bigger question for yours truly is, how invested is Columbia Records into Platten? If they are aware that New Years Day might not be the optimal time to release an album (which wasn’t even stocked at Walmart when I went to ‘check it out’ on New Year’s Day), why take the risk? Do they lack faith in Platten’s potential sales? Perhaps.

Hopefully, Platten’s braveness does pay off, even if it takes awhile. Things don’t look promising for Wildfire, but “it is what it is.” The album itself is worthwhile.

Babyface, Return of the Tender Lover © Def Jam (2)

Babyface Maintains the Upmost Consistency on ‘Return of the Tender Lover’

Babyface, Return of the Tender Lover © Def Jam (2)

Babyface • Return of the Tender Lover • Def Jam • Release Date: 12.4.15

Babyface is an iconic name in the music industry – he’s quite the producer, singer and songwriter. Return of the Tender Lover marks Babyface’s first solo album of originals in 10 years. He hasn’t been quiet during his hiatus – he dropped a covers album (Playlist, 2007) as well as a Grammy-winning duets album with Toni Braxton (Love, Marriage & Divorce, 2014), not to mention his production and songwriting contributions. Still, 10 years without a new solo album is a long time, but Return of the Tender Lover proves it’s was well worth the wait.

Does Babyface tweak his adult contemporary R&B style? No – he remains true to himself and this bodes well. Had Babyface tried to embrace the modern R&B, it probably wouldn’t have been a fit. Babyface knows his lane and he stays there, hence why this old school, slickly produced set is effective by all means.

“We’ve Got Love” sounds classic from the jump – specifically that saxophone which was one of the signature sounds of adult contemporary R&B in the 80s and 90s. In regards to the songwriting itself, it’s memorable and positive. Give Babyface credit for another rarity these days – the key change. In an age where the complexity of music has diminished to some degree, hearing a key change or a non-traditional harmonic progression is refreshing.

Perhaps the title and theme of “Fight For Love” is cliché, but artistically, Babyface sells it without a hitch. Whether it’s a song that ultimately stands the test of time seems unlikely, but it definitely works for Babyface. Standout “Exceptional” plays silky smooth, again not reinventing the wheel, but finding the veteran flex his muscles.

“Walking on Air” represents Babyface’s idea of feel-good fun. While not quite as proficient as opener “We’ve Got Love,” the El DeBarge featured joint is sound and ultimately enjoyable. Follow-up “I Want You” is self-explanatory – he wants her and needs her badly! Again perhaps it’s a platitudinous, but Babyface manages it exceptionally.

“Love And Devotion” is what it is – simply a beautiful, chivalrous, and lush ballad. Vocally, this is one of the most pure performances from Babyface. The vocal arrangement itself with the background vocals is among the crème de la crème of Return of the Tender Lover. The chivalry continues on “Standing Ovation,” where Babyface is “fascinated on the daily/ how you do the things you do…” The album closes with “Something Bout You” which picks up the pace and reminisces back to the 80s, and “Our Love,” another thoughtful, chivalrous ballad.

Overall, Return of the Tender Lover is fine adult contemporary R&B album. All nine tracks are consistent, even if there are a select few that stand taller the rest. Again, those accustomed to Babyface’s signature style will see that he’s done nothing to change the formula, a pro considering the type of artist he is. Is it the most thrilling R&B album of the year? No, but overall there’s little to complain about.

Favorites: “We’ve Got Love,” “Exceptional,” “Love and Devotion” and “Something Bout You”





A Great Big World, When The Morning Comes © Epic (2)

A Great Big World Deliver A Homerun on Sophomore Album ‘When The Morning Comes’

A Great Big World, When The Morning Comes © Epic (2)

A Great Big World • When The Morning Comes • Epic • Release Date: 11.13.15

It’s sad when a Grammy doesn’t elevate one’s commercial stature, isn’t it? That’s the case for hella talented singer/songwriting pop duo A Great Big World (Chad King and Ian Axel). AGBW landed a Grammy statuette for gargantuan hit, “Say Something” featuring Christina Aguilera, hailing from their debut album Is There Anybody Out There.

Album numero dos, When The Morning Comes has received quite the underrated, underappreciated start, debuting tepidly on the Billboard 200. Blame it on so-so promotion or the loaded week (Justin Bieber and One Direction were among newbies contending for the top), but regardless, album sales don’t determine the greatness of an album ultimately. When The Morning Comes is a fine album through and through that nobody should sleep on.

Let’s start with the attention getting elephant in the room, “Hold Each Other.” Everything else aside, it’s an exceptionally well-written, memorable song without question. Yes, Chad King’s love interest is male and he has referenced this song as “a big coming out song for me,” but does/should it really matter?

NO! Why – because this song is honest, authentic, and SHOULD be relatable to everyone, regardless of their sexual preference. If anything, “Hold Each Other” is not getting the love it deserves, just like it’s parent album. Which version is better – the one with rapper Futuristic or the duo only version? That’s personal preference, but purists will likely dig the Chad and Ian version.

There’s more to When The Morning Comes than just “Hold Each Other.” “All I Want Is Love” initiates things superbly, benefiting from poised verses and a more dynamic refrain. The contrast and sheer chemistry of Axel and King’s voices is amazing. HEY, ALL THEY WANT IS LOVE MAN!

“Kaleidoscope” amplifies the groove, giving AGBW a more fun, easygoing record if nothing else. Keeping things interesting is “End of the World,” which definitely sounds different from anything on the duo’s debut album. Hey, can you ever go wrong with a six-eight soulfully driven pop song? NO…Never!

After the first installment of “Hold Each Other,” “Oasis” keeps the hits on coming, as the duo thoughtfully sing, “When we’re lost in a desert night / and we’re chasing our paradise / when we can’t fight another fight / we’re gonna make it / you’re my oasis.” “Come On” follows, losing no momentum, finding the boys flexing – musically of course!

Obviously, after “coming on,” they “Won’t Stop Running” and don’t! “Won’t Stop Running” magnificently blends pop with a dash of urban flavor. Those stomping drums though! And let’s not even start on the awesome vocal production…swoon worthy! (P.S. falsetto alert!)

Just when you thought the big piano driven track wasn’t going to happen, then comes “One Step Ahead” to fill the gap. It doesn’t remain solo accompanied by piano as rhythmic acoustic guitars and lush strings make things even sweeter. By the conclusion, “One Step Ahead” fully blooms.

The rest of When The Morning Comes continues to allure. “The Future’s Right In Front of Me” isn’t necessarily ‘brand new’ in modus operandi, but that doesn’t hinder inhibit it. Title track “When the Morning Comes” is well put together without supplanting the best moments, while penultimate number “Where Does the Time Go” is chilling, introspective, and stunning. It’s followed by the closing, duet only version of “Hold Each Other.”

Just how good is When The Morning Comes? It’s among the best albums of 2015. This is how you make a pop album folks. It’s consistent, thoughtful, and excellent executed through and through. Weaknesses are few and far between. While the sales aren’t in AGBW’s court, vocally and musically, they’ve “raised the bar” by all means.

Favorites: “Kaleidoscope,” “Hold Each Other,” “Oasis,” “Won’t Stop Running” and “One Step Ahead”  


Mac Demarco, Another One © Captured Tracks

Mac Demarco, ‘Another One’ – Review

Mac Demarco, Another One © Captured Tracks

Following up the exceptionalness of Salad Days is a tall task, but Demarco manages well on Another One

Mac Demarco • Another One • Captured Tracks • Release Date: August 7, 2015

 Canadian singer/songwriter Mac Demarco has returned with his mini album Another One. Last year Demarco had everybody going gaga over Salad Days, which somehow missed on a Grammy nomination (how!). Another One has big shoes to fill following a critical juggernaut, but considering its Mac Demarco, well he knows how to do his thing quite well.

“The Way You’d Love Her” opens Another One, sounding characteristic of Demarco’s sound. The guitars possess lushness about them signifying the romance, while the harmonic scheme suggests jazz – “jizz jazz” as Demarco would describe his style. Short and to the point, the succinctness bodes well for Mac. Title track “Another One” continues the lush, romantic sound initiated by “The Way You’d Love Her.” There is a R&B sensibility about this cut, which is further amplified by the reverb on Demarco’s vocals. Ultimately though, she doesn’t love him, so Mac states, “Must be another one she loves.”

“No Other Heart” picks up the tempo after the slower “Another One.” The ‘ripe’ sounding guitars characteristic of Demarco’s sound return, cutting through the production work. Buttressing things is a bass line any soul artist would be happy to have on the bottom of their mix. Vocally, Demarco never pushes, singing with poise but not unemotionally either. Lyrically, the chorus remains simple: “Well for one, her heart belongs to another / and no other heart will do.” Who can’t relate to that?

“Just to Put Me Down” once more thrives off its groove and exuberant layered guitar. Thought it’s busy it doesn’t feel cluttered. Separating itself from the other tracks are Demarco’s vocals, where he takes some risks – falsetto and some of his riffs in general. “A Heart Like Hers” slackens the tempo, but keeps the energy alive and well. A pro once more is Demarco’s vocals – particularly his melody that shows off a bit more range. Also is that mellotron and horns? “A Heart Like Hers” FTW! Well, maybe not exactly like hers considering Demarco claims he’ll “never believe in a heart like hers again” based on how she’s treated him – “Tried so hard to believe in something that will never be.”

There’s always push and pull, so naturally “I’ve Been Waiting For Her” accelerates the tempo a bit. Interestingly, this particular song has one of the cleanest, tightest production jobs of the album. Penultimate record “Without Me” keeps it pretty simple: “Will she love me again tomorrow / I don’t know, don’t think so / and that’s fine, fine by me / as long as, long as I know she’s happy, happy.” Another One ends strangely with “My House By The Water,” mostly instrumental, but does include Demarco’s address and invitation: “Stop on by, I’ll make you a cup of coffee. See you later.”

How does Another One stack up? Why it’s another fine Mac Demarco album by all means. Does it supersede Salad Days? Nope, but this mini album – too short to be full-length yet lengthy for an EP – is another fine addition to Mac’s collection and anybody who enjoys sensational alternative music. Those guitars man – perfection! 

Favorites: “The Way You’d Love Her,” “Another One,” “Just to Put Me Down,” “A Heart Like Hers”


Jill Scott, Woman © Atlantic

Ranking Jill Scott’s Albums [Discography Analysis]

Jill Scott, Woman © Atlantic 

Jill Scott returned in 2015 with her fifth studio album Woman. One thing about Jill is she doesn’t know what a bad album is, a fact that wasn’t lost on Woman. Still, where does Woman fit in the ranks of her rich discography? Let’s rank Scott’s five studio albums!

1) Beautifully Human: Words And Sounds, Vol. 2 (2004)

Jill Scott, Beautifully Human © Hidden Beach

Beautifully Human is clearly one of the best albums of the neo-soul era of R&B. No neo-soul isn’t officially dead like disco was, but it’s not trendy as it once was. But this isn’t really about neo-soul, but rather about Beautifully Human. You can’t go wrong with the jazzy soul of “Golden,” the tastefully sensual “Cross My Mind,” or the dysfunctional truism of “Family Reunion,” just to name a few.

The rest of the hits includes the alt-soul of “I’m Not Afraid,” the yearning “The Fact Is (I Need You)” with its “do do do’s,” and “Bedda At Home.” It would take a full-length retrospective review to elaborate upon the greatness of Beautifully Human. Right now, just “Can’t Explain (42nd Street Happenstance).”


2) Who Is Jill Scott: Words And Sounds, Vol. 1 (2000)

Jill Scott, Who Is Jill Scott © Hiddben Beach

Let’s address the elephant in the room. If you are one of those people who believes the first album is ALWAYS the very best, then you’ll feel it’s a travesty that Who Is Jill Scott wasn’t ranked first.   Ultimately, Jill’s first three albums are very close in quality, so it’s a personal preference.

But this isn’t about the legitimacy of Who Is Jill Scott in the least – it is unquestionably elite. One of the less heralded numbers is a personal jam – “Do You Remember,” the album’s first full-length track. But Who Is Jill Scott isn’t limited to just that. There’s “Gettin’ in the Way,” “A Long Walk,” “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat),” “Love Rain” and another personal favorite, “The Way.”


3) The Real Thing: Words And Sounds, Vol. 3 (2007)

Jill Scott, The Real Thing © Hidden Beach

We had to wait three long years for Scott to follow-up her terrific Beautifully Human with The Real Thing. The wait was well worth it as Scott amplified her sensual side without going overboard. She gave us one killer “f**k-off” to the haters with “Hate On Me,” had us all hot and bothered with her “Epiphany,” and went on to describe herself as an exceptionally romantic lover on “My Love.” And notice, that doesn’t include other standouts like “The Real Thing,” “Come See Me,” Crown Royal,” and “Only You.”


4) The Light Of The Sun (2011)

Jill Scott, The Light of the Sun © Warner Bros

It took four years for Scott to return with The Light Of The Sun. Like her previous albums characterized by lengthy hiatuses, this one was another solid addition to her discography. No, The Light Of The Sun isn’t better than her Words And Sounds albums, but it’s also not very far off.   We felt Jill when she was “So In Love” with Anthony Hamilton (musical romance that is, don’t get it twisted) and we were on board when she brought on The A Group and Philly rap standout Eve on the funky retro-soul cut “Shame.”

She wasn’t done – Paul Wall joined her on the sensual “So Gone (What My Mind Says)” while the brief “Quick” was like a follow-up to The Real Thing’s “Epiphany.” Did we mention “Hear My Call” or “Until Then” in the mix? Go on and flex Jill!


5) Woman (2015)

Jill Scott, Woman © Atlantic

Unfortunately, there has to be one album at the bottom of the barrel. It sucks to be that album, but that’s the way it goes. Woman, Scott’s latest album is another fine addition to her collection, no questions asked. The main reason it’s fifth and not higher is because the four albums ahead of it are just more notable. Who Is Jill Scott is the classic debut, Beautiful Human is stacked from start to finish, The Real Thing amplifies her sensual side like a champ, while Light of The Sun, although less heralded than the three preceding, continues finding Jill flex capably.

So that leaves Woman, another “contender” that suffers from being scattered. Consider it to be like a talented team that can still when the championship, but will have some speed bumps along the way. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with an album with strong records like “Lighthouse,” “Fool’s Gold,” “Closure,” “You Don’t Know” and a really cool song title, “Jahraymecofasola.”  

So how would you rank the neo soul standout’s collection? Should Who Is Jill Scott be first? Does her chronological order also represent her quality?

Mike Posner, The Truth (EP) © Island

Mike Posner Presents Mike Posner 2.0 On Superb EP ‘The Truth’ (Review)

Mike Posner, The Truth (EP) © Island

Mike Posner • The Truth (EP) • Island • US Release Date: June 22, 2015 

On The Truth (EP), chameleonic musician Mike Posner repositions himself as a singer/songwriter – quite a departure from his debut pop album 31 Minutes To Takeoff, which seems like an eternity ago (2010). Posner possesses such a distinct voice it’s not far-fetched that he has more flexibility than some contemporary musicians. While The Truth has nothing that will supersede the success Posner experienced on “Cooler Than Me,” it definitely shows something we haven’t seen from Posner. As they say, “honesty is the best policy,” and Posner is blatantly honest throughout The Truth – he never lies.

So what’s Posner got on The Truth? Well “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” is a sensational start, which commences with a bang: “I took a pill in Ibiza / to show Avicii I was cool / and when I finally got sober, felt 10 years older / but f**k it, it was something to do.” If depicting irresponsibility is Posner’s modus operandi in verse one, verse two finds Posner in a worse spot – his plight as a ‘washed up’ musician and his inability to settle down. Ultimately on the chorus, Posner advises against living his life because ultimately, “You don’t wanna be high like me…all I know are sad songs.” “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” definitely is more realistic than “Cooler Than Me” by a mile.

“Buried In Detroit” is a moving, lush ballad that truly allows for Posner’s distinct pipes to shine. The minute you hear it, it reminds you of a modern spin on Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” at least in sensibility. Even though Posner has a serious tone throughout “Buried in Detroit,” he allows for some ‘comic relief’ honesty with lyrics like “You see I got f**ked up in Stockholm,” but follows with the memorable hook, “But I’ll be buried in Detroit.”

Love becomes the focus on “Not That Simple,” where the tried-and-true breakup and the aftermath are conveyed. Even though it’s ended, Posner can’t get over her: “But’s it’s not that simple / type of misery…I still hear these echoes / of when you love me / but now you’re just someone in my mind / that used to be mine.” Ultimately, “Not That Simple” is mix between pop and blue-eyed soul, particularly at the end where the background vocals enter the picture.

“Be As You Are” concludes The Truth enjoyably and respectably. ‘The truth’ in this instance seems to be the honesty of Posner’s mom: “There are moments when you fall to the ground…you don’t always have to speak so loud, no be as you are” or in a later variant “It doesn’t matter if you become some star / life is better when you open your heart / you don’t always have to act so hard, no be as you are.” “Be As You Are” is the obligatory ‘inspirational’ joint, and while such songs can have the tendency to be sappy, Posner’s honesty and authentic vocals make it worthwhile.

All in all, Posner has delivered a compelling four-song EP that people will sleep on, but shouldn’t. All four songs are enjoyable and a true testament to Posner’s talents. 27-year old Posner is much wiser than his younger self.   

Favorites: “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” and “Buried Detroit”  


Tori Kelly, Unbreakable Smile © Capitol

Tori Kelly Shows Off Her Tremendous Pipes On Debut Album ‘Unbreakable Smile’ [Review]

Tori Kelly, Unbreakable Smile © Capitol

Okay, none of that pointless introductory bull – let’s just cut to the chase! Pop/R&B singer/songwriter Tori Kelly has mad pipes – really mad. In other words, this girl can absolutely blow! Her debut album Unbreakable Smile isn’t the ‘exemplification of perfection’ per se, but vocally, Kelly shows herself to house quite a profound, stunning instrument. Unbreakable Smile ultimately shows itself to be a respectable, enjoyable debut album.

Following the obligatory intro/interlude “Where I Belong,” Title track “Unbreakable Smile” serves as the set’s first full-length song. It’s a solid urban-pop record with crossover appeal written all over it. As sunny and feel good as it is, arguably, “Nobody Love” trumps it, finding Kelly owning the song from the jump. The production is a selling point, with the verses featuring dusty, soulful beat and bright horns, while the chorus opts for even more ‘swag’ – a contemporary hip-hop beat. Besides the production itself, this is a terrific, relatively memorable joint.

“Expensive” keeps Unbreakable Smile rolling right along, with the assist from rapper Daye Jack. The results are quite similar to the title track and “Nobody Love” – top-notch, fun pop. “Expensive” may remind some of the songs from Christina Aguilera’s Back To Basics album from 2006 – retro infusion going full force. “Should’ve Been Us” likewise is effective without being a profound, game changing statement. Still, have we lauded those pipes enough? This girl can SANG! Is Tori an angel or minimally her pipes angelic?

On “First Heartbreak” Kelly sings her face off, infusing authentic emotion to the nth degree. She has more of a ‘singer/songwriter’ moment on “I Was Made For Loving You” featuring Ed Sheeran. “I Was Made For Loving You” lacks the urban flavor that characterizes the majority of the cuts preceding it. This is a welcome departure, giving Kelly a different ‘look’ – well ‘sound.’ “I Was Made For Loving You” isn’t necessarily the album’s most exciting moment, but it is a moving one.

“City Dove” is a rousing, anthemic pop song whose best moments arrive at the end.   It’s not bad, but it takes a while to percolate. “Talk” sports one of the best grooves of the album that makes you “wanna bust a move” for lack of a better description. The groove is reminiscent of 70s pop/soul, once more finding Kelly throwing in a dash of old school. The song itself is good, not transcendent or revolutionary. “Funny,” a live performance that follows, shows off Kelly’s chops but still doesn’t necessarily deliver a ‘song’ that is a homerun.

“Art Of Letting You Go” continues to showcase Kelly’s prodigious instrument, as she tackes the verses in her lower register, ascending to her full power on the chorus. She enlists the help of LL Cool J on the corny, but fun “California Lovers.” Two of the album’s best songs conclude in the heart wrenching, love-centric “Falling Slow” and another infectious ‘groovy’ pop-soul cut, “Anyway” “Anyway” is reminiscent of something Natasha Bedingfield might sing – think “These Words.”

So how does Unbreakable Smile stack up when it’s all said and done? Overall, it is a pleasant pop album with crossover appeal. What it’s not is the ‘second coming’ or revolutionary pop. As referenced earlier, arguably, Tori Kelly the musician is more memorable and more polished than the songs on Unbreakable Smile. But for a debut album, there’s plenty to like about it, even beyond Kelly’s thrilling vocals.

Favorites: “Unbreakable Smile,” “Nobody Love,” “Expensive,” “Falling Slow,” “Anyway”


Lyfe Jennings in"Pretty Is" Video (RED, YouTube)

Lyfe Jennings Remains Consistent and Keeps It 100 On ‘Tree Of Lyfe’

Lyfe Jennings, Tree of Lyfe © RED (Sony) Lyfe Jennings • Tree of Lyfe • RED (Sony) • US Release Date: June 23, 2015

Like so many artists, R&B singer/songwriter Lyfe Jennings had his ‘run’ in the game. Following his biggest successes, his album sales dwindled and he went from major label to independent label – yep, basically the story of many a R&B artist and artists in general. Regardless of his commercial fortunes, on album six, Tree Of Lyfe, Jennings still does his thing – deliver honest, straight-talking R&B with great songwriting to match. Oh and by the way, he’s back on a major – label that is (RED is distributed through Sony). 

“I Love You” kicks off Tree Of Lyfe with an old school, neo-soul vibe. Though “I Love You” is old fashioned, it doesn’t feel archaic or anachronistic by any means. Jennings infuses his best, delivering the increasingly rare chivalrous contemporary R&B record. “She Don’t Wanna” keeps the momentum flowing, embracing a slightly more ‘contemporary’ adult R&B sound – if that makes sense! Ultimately, Jennings doesn’t change-up his formula, he just keeps on flexing what he does proficiently.

“#Hashtag” ranks among the elites, finding Jennings balancing real talk (no filter), contemporary production, and creative, sound songwriting. Vocally Jennings excels, with his signature rasp at its best. Authenticity really drives “#Hashtag” home. “#Hashtag” is followed up by two duets – “We’re Not The Same” featuring Algebra Blessett and “Talkin About Love” featuring Demetria McKinny. Both guests are terrific vocalists, though unsung by all means. As for the duets, both are respectable without necessary representing the crème de la crème of Tree of Lyfe. 

“Right Now” is rock solid and well produced, but “Pretty Is” is the showstopper, thanks to its positivity. Jennings sings memorably, “You’ll always be pretty because / you’re still full of love.” Aw – so chivalrous! “People” is another respectable moment from Tree of Lyfe considering Jennings pays ode to Marvin Gaye and channeling Gaye’s socially conscious brand of music. While it stands out, “People” could’ve lasted longer with even more development, it ultimately represents a worthwhile moment.

Another testament to ‘songwriting’ is “Gods,” which is thoughtful in its conception. Rather than being just another ‘record,’ “Gods” is truly a song with profound meaning behind it – the substance is there. Does “Gods” feel like a hit per se? Nah – but, it shows that R&B still has songwriters who transcend the shallower end of the spectrum. Following the “25,000 Mornings Interlude,” “Always” concludes Tree Of Lyfe much like it opens – throwback R&B. “Always” actually takes it a step further, tapping into vintage soul, intact with strings, background vocals, and good ole six-eight meter.

Does Lyfe Jennings reinvent the wheel on Tree Of Lyfe? No, but he delivers a candid, genuine R&B effort without major flaw. Even if Tree Of Lyfe isn’t always remarkable or exciting, the pieces are all in place – I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed. Worth the listen and/or purchase? – Definitely!

Favorites: “I Love You,” “She Don’t Wanna,” “#Hashtag,” “Pretty Is,” “Always”