Chrisette Michele - I Am (2007)

Chrisette Michele
chrisettemichele-iam.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

She is only 24 years old. It's something you have to keep reminding yourself while listening to this singer/songwriting ingénue on her Def Jam debut, I Am. At 24, Chrisette Michele sports the high notes of Bjork, the bottomless wells of Tina, the raspy tone of Fantasia and phrasing of Verve-era Billie with a bit of Phoebe Snow thrown in for good measure. Her single, "If I Have My Way", brings more soul back in one sustained note than all the sexy Justin Timberlake can muster on an album. On live and video performances, Chrisette Michele offers today's young ladies of R&B a bump and grind-free course on class with a capital C. Yet, on I Am she never sacrifices her feminine sex appeal and-even on languid cuts-always captivates listeners with her most dexterous instrument.

She is only 24 years old. It's something you have to keep reminding yourself while listening to this singer/songwriting ingénue on her Def Jam debut, I Am. At 24, Chrisette Michele sports the high notes of Bjork, the bottomless wells of Tina, the raspy tone of Fantasia and phrasing of Verve-era Billie with a bit of Phoebe Snow thrown in for good measure. Her single, "If I Have My Way", brings more soul back in one sustained note than all the sexy Justin Timberlake can muster on an album. On live and video performances, Chrisette Michele offers today's young ladies of R&B a bump and grind-free course on class with a capital C. Yet, on I Am she never sacrifices her feminine sex appeal and-even on languid cuts-always captivates listeners with her most dexterous instrument.

Did I mention the lady plays some mean keys on top of singing like a Delta Blues woman twice her age? Reared on gospel and jazz, but introduced to listeners through elbow jabbing world of hard-core hip-hop, Chrisette's music runs the gamut of musical influences. On her two most-performed songs, the wedding ballad "Golden" and the seductive promissory note "If I Have My Way", she is the sultry belter the industry's missed since the death of Phyllis Hyman. As a recent hook-girl for both Nas and Jay-Z, Chrisette demonstrates she's picked up a cue or two from New York's finest. Ms. Michele effortlessly flows in song and rhyme over some of the most elegant hip-hop tracks we've never heard, particularly on the romantic, Wu Xia film, "Let's Rock", the jazz-hop anthem "Good Girl" and the breathless "I Am Here For You". On I Am the acoustic pop tunes "Best of Me", "Your Joy" and "I Am One", Chrisette is meditative and near melancholy yet still approaches each canvas with a different, definitive vocal brush. Transitioning between purring sex kitten and caustic love victim, Chrisette is wonderfully playful on the hip-pop ditties, "Be Ok" and in the front-stoop storytelling of "Like A Dream". In its seamless joining of R&B's disparate denominations: DC go-go rhythms, neo-soul keys, Blondie-inspired vocal arrangement and the pre-requisite will i. am guest rap, "Be Ok" best represents the eclectic nature of I Am. With producers GI Joe, Babyface, John Legend and will i. am on board, no two songs have the exact same feel, yet each possesses Chrisette's undeniable stamp.

Awesome breathe control and agile phrasing are the hallmarks of Chrisette's trained jazz technique, notably on the blues drama "Work It Out" and the piano ballad "Love Is You." Just when you think her voice will crack, she'll unpredictably climb higher, drop into a descending rift, a rousing growl or sometimes all of the above in rapid succession. Long Island's 5 Towns College should anticipate a stampede of singers into their music program after would-be divas hear how Michele works her way from a whisper to a scream in "Is This The Way Love Feels."

Though I Am is an album primarily about romantic love, Michele's lyrics have rare depth. "Mr. Radio" subtly takes a dig at both R&B and hip hop's one dimensional portrayal of sex and love without being preachy. "I Am One" inspirationally weaves a message of unity with contrivance-free references to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Even love is mature and considered in Michele's poetics. A word to liner note fans rushing to the brick and mortars to buy this album; I say purchase at least one digital version. Must-have, album-only live versions of "Good Girl," "Golden" and Michele's self-penned instant-talent-show standard, "If I Have My Way," are included on the iTunes edition of I Am. Since this is an album you'll wear out in a month, you might as well buy it twice. Need I say highly recommended?

-L. Michael Gipson

 
World Premiere - Chris Jasper - "For The Love of You"
Album of the Month - Jeffrey Dennis - "Lovin On You"
Featured Album - Leon Ware - "Rainbow Deux"

Leave a comment!