Keyshia Cole - A Different Me (2008)

Keyshia Cole
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In the three years and two albums that span her burdgeoning career, Keyshia Cole has established herself amongst her R&B peers by being authentic and accessible, sharing her life's struggles via her hit BET reality show and her heart's struggles through her music. And like another street-savvy soul sister, Mary J. Blige, Ms. Cole's legion of fans heal their own wounds by listening to her wail about hers. She could've easily created another half a dozen CD's like The Way It Is and Just Like You and remained successful, but Ms. Cole boldly decided to change her image and her romantic perspective with her third release, A Different Me.

In the three years and two albums that span her burdgeoning career, Keyshia Cole has established herself amongst her R&B peers by being authentic and accessible, sharing her life's struggles via her hit BET reality show and her heart's struggles through her music. And like another street-savvy soul sister, Mary J. Blige, Ms. Cole's legion of fans heal their own wounds by listening to her wail about hers. She could've easily created another half a dozen CD's like The Way It Is and Just Like You and remained successful, but Ms. Cole boldly decided to change her image and her romantic perspective with her third release, A Different Me.

Whether she's maturing in her approach as an artist with age or just emerging from the heartbreak she suffered at the hands of her last serious relationship (*cough, cough, Young Jeezy*), Ms. Cole retains her songwriting prowess and her focus, even if the majority of the tracks do have a less urban feel than her previous efforts. Her smoother, less strident vocals aren't as animated as before, but manage to convey ardor in the pulsating, 80's-esque  "Erotic," the lovestruck "No Other" and the upbeat "Please Don't Stop," where she coos and pleads for her man to continue to rain down the loving.

Do she and the producers (the Trackmasters, Polow da Don and Tank among them) allow ...Me to collapse into a complete sapfest? Not necessarily. Her first single, "Playa Cardz Right," does inject some swag by way of melding her vocals together with the late Tupac Shakur, telling an over-eager player not to rock the boat as far as the relationship's steady pace. "Trust" is another unexpected gem, featuring a sassy-as-ever Monica in the big-sis role as KC pours out her heart about a wary soulmate. Nas also injects some much-needed grit into the super-saccarine let's-work-it-out track, "Oh-Oh, Yeah-Yea."

There's never growth without growing pains, so A Different Me has as many negatives as positives. First of all, Ms. Cole seems intent on sustaining relationships instead of dismissing them: "This Is Us" is a woozy tune that lays out the differences between the couple while stressing her devotion nonethless, and "Where This Love Could End Up" is a buoyant, breezy look at possibilities are for the future. And she isn't completely without attitude: Ms. Cole puts a player in check, for example, on "Thought You Should Know," reminding him that "I can buy my own liquor...it's gonna take more than one drink to get me home." It's just that such displays are too far apart to have impact.

Ultimately, what ends up making ...Me so awkward is that what used to come easy now sounds forced or just flat. "Make Me Over," the Ike and Tina ode, doesn't have the fire needed to make it fly, and overall, her tone isn't satisfied, but actually...well...sedated. Hardcore fans will find enough to cheer her on, but others may wonder what was so wrong with the original Keyshia to begin with.

By Melody Charles

 
Album of the Month - Juewett Bostick - Shades of Blu
Choice Cut - Kea Michaels - "Not My Friend"
Song of the Month - Bryan Andrew Wilson - "Only You'

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