Lyfe Jennings - I Still Believe

Lyfe Jennings
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It's not often that the hard-knock life and a ten-year arson bid paves a path to stardom, but it's all part of what makes the singer, songwriter and producer known as Lyfe Jennings...well...Lyfe Jennings. Prison wasn't where he first discovered his voice, of course---it had been cultivated in church choirs during his teenage years---but the isolating experience allowed Chester Jennings to hone those abilities, which led to five back-to-back wins at Apollo's amateur night in 2002 and a four-track demo. The resulting debut, 2004's Lyfe 268-192, earned instant acclaim for its acoustically-anchored and earnestly-delivered songs about faith, hope and redemption. So it's no surprise that, six years and three albums later, Mr. Jennings expands on the winning formula for his latest (and according to him, final) CD, I Still Believe.

It's not often that the hard-knock life and a ten-year arson bid paves a path to stardom, but it's all part of what makes the singer, songwriter and producer known as Lyfe Jennings...well...Lyfe Jennings. Prison wasn't where he first discovered his voice, of course---it had been cultivated in church choirs during his teenage years---but the isolating experience allowed Chester Jennings to hone those abilities, which led to five back-to-back wins at Apollo's amateur night in 2002 and a four-track demo. The resulting debut, 2004's Lyfe 268-192, earned instant acclaim for its acoustically-anchored and earnestly-delivered songs about faith, hope and redemption. So it's no surprise that, six years and three albums later, Mr. Jennings expands on the winning formula for his latest (and according to him, final) CD, I Still Believe.

Given the straight-forward sequencing of ....Believe (45 interlude-free minutes) and the uncomplicated titles, it would be easy to think that Mr. Jennings is just phoning it in this time around, but that isn't the case: there's just more expertise behind the boards (Warryn Campbell, Bryan-Michael Cox and newer collaborators like T-Minus), which gives the raspy-voiced crooner more time to focus on the fragility of life and relationships. There is a healthy dose of commentary, thanks to the lamenting "If I Knew Then, What I Know Now," the gospel-esque "It Coulda Been Worse" and the hypnotic title track, which emphasizes true-school over new-school: "I still believe in church on Sunday, and praying before you go to sleep/ I still believe in teaching by example, cuz' children mimic what they see."

The urbanized edges that endeared him to so many over the years remain present in tracks like "Love," which has a deceptively sweet title but is actually a tongue-in-cheek challenge to a fellow man that what he won't do, Lyfe happily will: "There's always somebody that's watching your girl, there's always somebody who feels he can be better/ You can call me a hater, but she gon' call me later/My advice to you Player....show her some love." "Statistics," as many know by now, isn't a dreaded math course, but a pro-woman instruction manual (based on Steve Harvey's best-selling book) on how to separate the worthy from the worthless in today's dating game: "25 percent of all men are unstable, 25 percent of all men can't be faithful/ 30 of them don't mean what they say, and ten percent of them remain, then 20 is gay/...I'm gonna show you how to expose the 90 percent, and show you what to do to keep the other ten."

The rest of...Believe covers rapturous romances or raw deals: "Hero" gives a lady props for human qualities that even the supernatural fall short of providing ("Superman can't cook chicken like this, and Wonder Woman can't French-kiss/....Spiderman don't forgive me when I'm wrong, Batman don't look good in that thong"), while "Learn From This" is an "I-messed-up-big-time" confession to the family of which he's no longer a part. Some may not appreciate the F-bombs peppered throughout, but he still gets points for its soul-searing honesty: "So I pay my child support like the judge tells me to, and I stay out all night drinking while I'm getting over you....it's my way of calming down, it's either that or burn this (expletive) house to the ground."

Given his proclivity to connect with an audience and champion new talent, it's doubtful that Lyfe Jennings is saying goodbye to the entertainment biz altogether. But even if his fourth CD does turn out to be his last, fans can best ...Believe that its artistic impact alone, and as part of his catalog, makes his exit more symbolic than substantial. Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
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