Faith Evans - R&B Divas
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Shortly after the word ‘diva’ left the confines of opera terminology, the term came to describe female performers of any genre with an incredible voice, undeniable charisma and the ‘it’ factor. For most Baby Boomers, those singers-turned-superstars included Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston and Chaka Khan; women who raised the standard and visibility of contemporary R&B and paved the way for Generation Next. Entering such a prestigious club requires ambition, hard work and undeniable vocal finesse, qualities that shine through in abundance on the television series R&B Divas and on its newly issued companion CD.
No matter how people may feel about TV One’s hit reality show that spawned the project, few will dispute that its cast---Faith Evans, Ke Ke Wyatt, Monifah Carter, Nicci Gilbert and Syleena Johnson--- is comprised of five aptly-named and undeniably gifted songstresses. Whatever quirks or clashes they display on-screen is eclipsed by the soulful synergy they create. In tracks that range from inspirational to energetic, the quintet (and a couple of equally endowed peers) showcases the star power that earned the ladies their devoted fans in the first place. The first of two songs performed by the entire lineup is “Lovin’ Me,” the show’s theme song and an exuberant ego-booster, with each Diva chiming in about overcoming insecurities and finally accepting herself: “I found me a place, where I ain’t doin’ nothing, but lovin’ myself and everything about me, hey/I found me a place, where it don’t even matter/what nobody else thinks cuz’ I’m lovin’ me.”
Their second collaboration, “SisterFriend,” is Generation X’s version of Waiting to Exhale’s “Count On Me,” featuring the quintet trading verses of reassurance in trying times without overdosing on the sap factor. Mixed in with the individual and collective songs are ones adding an extra non-Diva vocalist or two, such as a delicately-delivered remake of Cyndi Lauper’s signature hit, “True Colors” (with Ms. Evans, Fantasia and Kelly Price) and the melodramatic mid-tempo, “Sometimes,” featuring Nicci Gilbert and her mother Helene (in the opener and the background) singing about the dramas that strain relationships via a funk-driven Mike City-created groove.
As expected, each member of the cast gets a solo spotlight: Syleena Johnson’s “Stonewall” will be familiar to those who already have her 2011 Chapter 5: Underrated CD, it doesn’t make its message of resilience is any less plaintive or powerful . Ms. Wyatt’s buoyant vocals are the highlight of the delectably tangy doo-wop tribute, “Mr. Supafly,” and Monifah’s channels the abuse survivor anthem, “She’s Me,” so expertly that it’s as masterful as it is maudlin. One of the special guests, Kelly Price, provides an exquisite rendering of the gospel hymn "Jesus Loves Me," and including a live version of a Bad Boy throwback, “Soon As I Get Home,” Faith Evans gets four turns at center court and makes every one of them into slam dunks. Whether she’s tenderly testifying about her do-right man in “Tears of Joy,” waiting and wishing for Mr. Big Stuff to add romance to his agenda in “Too High For Love” or drop-kicking a loser over a hyper, yet head-nodding groove in the track “Dumb,” Ms. Evans reinforces her ‘sangin’ rep and handily retains the title as The First Lady of R&B.
Conceived in honor of another beloved diva, the late Whitney Houston (with a portion of the proceeds to serve East Orange, NJ’s Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts), the CD not benefits a worthy cause, it also reinforces the irrefutable artistry of Monifah, Syleena, Ke Ke, Nicci and Faith within an industry of amateurs: anyone can get lucky and score a hit, but if today’s singers hope to have a career that’s relevant beyond the latest obligatory Drake or Lil Wayne cameo, it would serve them well to study this outstanding ensemble of resilient Divas. Enthusiastically Recommended.
By Melody Charles