Karyn White - Carpe Diem

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    She earned her first singing gig as a teenager, charted with a Top 20 R&B smash at twenty-one and secured near-legendary status with the second track from her 1988 debut CD, a song so poignant and powerful that it resonated with millions and has remained her signature smash. Her name? Karyn White. The hit? “Superwoman.” The native Californian’s life off-stage seemed as charmed as the music, thanks to that burgeoning success, camera-ready good looks and subsequent marriage to superstar producer Terry Lewis.

    But getting to the top was one thing: maintaining the momentum was another.  A break from the spotlight to raise her toddler Ashley turned into an indefinite hiatus, and by 1999, White's mother had passed away and her marriage was dissolved. After years of personal and professional growth (she returned to her spiritual roots and also became a real estate investor), Ms. White decided to re-purpose the focus once used on her now-grown daughter to independently create her fourth studio CD, Carpe Diem.

    Just a few notes in takes the listener back to the 80s, which is both a positive and a negative: on the positive side, the 46-year-old is still gorgeous enough to put most 20-somethings to shame and her distinctive vocals have lost their coy girlishness and become richer and sultrier in the process. “Sista Sista” picks up where “Superwoman” left off, turning the impetus on her peers to become less like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and more like “Girlfriends”: “Hand in hand, we’ve got more power than the strongest man/Let’s get together, do you think we can?” The ballad’s self-assured and spirited performance is a standout, as is the adoring mid-tempo “Heaven” and the delicate, yet delectable “My Heart Cries.”

    The majority of Carpe Diem, however, is as unevenly executed as it is ambitious: the ‘retro’ feel that White aimed for falls short of the mark due to the clumsy handling of the material. The danceable numbers (“Dance Floor,” “This Hot”) are anchored by mechanical beats and come off contrived, while “Unbreakable” is meandering and overly-maudlin. Even her remake of the Cyndi Lauper hit “True Colors,” which could have been a ‘nothing-but-net’ performance,  can’t decide if it wants to be a tour de force or a spiritual.

    Karyn White’s long-awaited return should have been a subtle, yet sophisticated upgrade to her innate musical style, but instead, the CD’s main sound providers---Jeremy Sylvers (son of the late Edmund Sylvers) and the legendary band man Bobby G.--- instead stifle it, leaving only a limited number of tracks worthy of White's talent and legacy. For those who still secretly (or not-so-secretly) sing “Superwoman” at the top of their lungs and rejoiced at news of her reemergence, Carpe Diem’s flaws can be programmed around and forgiven; for more casual fans, however, they could be too much to overcome, which could abbreviate the empowered epilogue that Ms. White’s success story still deserves to have.  Cautiously Recommended.

    By Melody Charles

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