Brian McKnight - Evolution of a Man (2009)

Brian McKnight
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If ever an artist embodied the definition of silky-smooth contemporary R&B, it would be singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Brian McKnight. Since the 1990's, the man has used his melismatic, buttery range to propel hit after hit after hit onto the Billboard charts, into wedding dances and yes, even as the soundtrack for baby-making bedroom sessions ("Crazy Love," Back At One," "Love Is"). After so many years in the genre, it's hard for an artist with such a trademark sound to shake things up without losing fans or being accused of selling out, so for his eleventh set, ...Evolution,  Mr. McKnight straddles a narrow fence,  using the same lyrical and vocal prowess against more varied and  modernized tracks in an effort to keep things both familiar and fresh.

If ever an artist embodied the definition of silky-smooth contemporary R&B, it would be singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Brian McKnight. Since the 1990's, the man has used his melismatic, buttery range to propel hit after hit after hit onto the Billboard charts, into wedding dances and yes, even as the soundtrack for baby-making bedroom sessions ("Crazy Love," Back At One," "Love Is"). After so many years in the genre, it's hard for an artist with such a trademark sound to shake things up without losing fans or being accused of selling out, so for his eleventh set, ...Evolution,  Mr. McKnight straddles a narrow fence,  using the same lyrical and vocal prowess against more varied and  modernized tracks in an effort to keep things both familiar and fresh.

In a sharp contrast of his last CD, Ten, ...Evolution is more introspective and ballad-heavy. As expected, Mr. McKnight is confident enough to move through multiple genres and influences, and more often than not, he manages to pull it off: the anthemic "Neversaygoodbye" hearkens to the late-80's, the Peter Cetera-helmed Chicago sound, "Babyit'su," is a tear-stained confession of love, and "Imissu" is deceptively buoyant, considering that he's taking one step forward and two steps back from a woman who could very well be his Happily Ever After. The lead single, "WhatI'vebeenwaiting4," is its tremulous polar opposite, the aural equivalent of chocolate hearts, red roses and satin sheets. Midtempos like the buoyant "Whenurlovinme" and island-esque "While" offer a welcome change of pace, as does "Alwaysbemybaby," even if it is a bit creepy in its resolve to consider a woman he's about to shake loose as someone who's  destined to remain tied to him forever: "I know it's hard right now, but one day you'll see, that you'll find someone who loves you like you need to be. And it's okay if you forget about me, whereever you are in this world, you'll always be my girl."

If there's a complaint to be had about this CD, it's that it may be a bit too rote, too smooth, too, well...expected. Except for the Musiq Soulchild-inspired song titles and awful auto-tuned opening theme ("The Brian McKnight"), there is a lack of spontaneity and adventurousness that many artists fall prey to once they've happened upon a winning formula and have, well, hit a lick, so to speak. His falsetto and tenor are as flawless as ever, like a finely-tuned precision laser in evoking the mood for the moment , but there is little edge to be found from one composition to another, so they all seem to blend in a built too well: the super-synthesized "Justalittlebit" and "Ibetchaneva" have little to distinguish them other than a few percussive upticks, and one wishes that the dreamy, lilting piano-anchored songs like "Another You" and "Alone" had found themselves higher up in the sequencing to break up the monotony. His building a career as a one-man ballad machine should've afforded Mr. McKnight the confidence to step out of that box a little more, but since he chose the path of the least resistance, the ironically-titled ....Evolution is actually comprised of perfectly pleasing, yet pedestrian grooves.


By Melody Charles
 
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