FAITH EVANS: ‘Incomparable’ (Absolute/BMG)

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Dubbed ‘The First Lady of Hip-hop Soul,’ honey-voiced Faith Evans is back with one of her best ever albums in a career that now stretches back over twenty years to when she was a backing vocalist for super-smooth R&B man, Al B. Sure. The Florida-born singer has experienced several ups and downs during that time but in recent years has undergone something of a career renascence, aided by her appearance on two seasons of the successful US reality show that she helped create, ‘R&B Divas.’ Back with her first long player since 2010’s ‘Keep The Faith,’ the singer is in top form on a 16-track collection that blends jamming, dance floor-focused R&B grooves with lush romantic ballads and stirring, gospel-inflected tunes.

Of the dance tracks, ‘Extraordinary’ is a tight groove that rides on a squelchy synth bass line over which Evans’ silky smooth vocals float effortlessly. Even catchier is ‘I Deserve It,’ an edgy street jam based on a repeated piano sample and whose sound is hip-hop-flavoured. It spotlights some inventive and playful wordplay from rappers Missy Elliott and Sharaya J. In contrast, ‘Fragile’ is an infectious retro-style soul groove with horns while the album’s locomotive title track rides on a D-Train-inspired groove. More uproarious is the euphoric party jam, ‘Good Time,’ with a cameo from rapper, Problem. Ballad-wise, the sweetly-soulful mid-tempo ‘Forever’ is a standout with its simmering rhythms, delicate strings and layered vocal harmonies while ‘He Is’ is a sparse old school-style slowie with hints of Aretha Franklin that allows Evans to show off her gospel-influenced vocal melisma. Talking of gospel, there’s also an authentic church feel to ‘Paradise,’ a driving uptempo track that features the dulcet tones of inspirational music star, Karen Clark-Sheard (one of Faith Evans’ formative influences).

Overall, this is an impressive return from the versatile songstress, whose golden voice is beautifully luminous throughout on what is a varied and satisfying collection of grooves and moods.

(CW) 4/5