You don't have to watch TV One's hit reality show, R&B Divas, to appreciate the new collaborative album from Faith Evans featuring Nicci Gilbert, Syleena Johnson, Keke Wyatt and Monifah Carter. I, for one, should know because I haven't seen the show. What I do know is that this album will feed your mind, body and your soul with subjects ranging from love and heartache to sisterhood to religion.
Faith has described this album as being a compilation in the vein of the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, and you do get that feel. It's a sampler of sorts, absent of any ego trips or one-up's -- these "Divas" have a single goal in common: to make good music, and that they did. R&B Divas is an album chock full of meaningful songs by some of the best but lost voices of our time. The phrase "grown folks music" was coined for albums like this. Faith is herself featured on seven songs, four of them her own, and boy is she sounding good. Really, all of the women are, but we'll get to the others in a minute.
You've heard the retro-soul uptempo "Dumb," and maybe your eyes watered up watching her heartwarming video for "Tears of Joy," but those aren't necessarily the best of what she has to offer on this album. "Too High for Love" is ready for its time in the spotlight, too. For her final song on the album, she leaves us with a treat -- a live recording of her performing "Soon As I Get Home" in Los Angeles. Just like her audience that day, you'll be singing along with every word, remembering where you were and what you were doing back in 1995 when the then 22-year-old released the song on Bad Boy. She was sounding so good that I headed immediately to my favorite web retailer to purchase her debut album (on CD, no less!) that I surprisingly, didn't already own. It's good to know that Ms. Evans is in the studio working on her next full-length solo effort, the second to be released on her Prolific Music Group label, because I'm ready to hear more from her.
The other ladies of Divas have a song each on the album and they all shine. Keke Wyatt's "Mr. Supafly" is like a sticky, sweet puff of cotton candy. It's light, fluffy and irresistible. Nicci Gilbert is joined by Helene "Mom" Gilbert to dole out relationship advice on "Sometimes." Just in case you needed a reminder of who the younger Ms. Gilbert is, there's a lyrical nod to her days with Brownstone. Syleena Johnson and her full-bodied voice are haunting and stoic on "Stonewall." Monifah takes her solo turn for the painful story told on "She's Me." One lovely thing about the song is that it could be a great fit for multiple genres, and it would be nice to see that theory tested.
Although Nicci, Monifah, Keke, Syleena and Faith all appear on the show, a couple of other R&B divas lent their voices to the project. I found myself pleasantly surprised by the remake of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" by Faith, Kelly Price and Fantasia. Before I even gave the song a listen, I was prepared to skip it for reasons that defy logic, but I'm glad I didn't. The sisters in R&B sung in unison for the bulk of the song before splitting the lead between Kelly and Faith. For the record, their colors blend quite well together. Even "Count on Me" 2012, better known as "Sisterfriend," is worth a listen. Usually songs of this type make me cringe, but coming from these ladies, it's heartfelt and honest, much like the TV show's theme song, "Lovin' Me."
Now, if you're not ready to go to church, do not turn the final track. They decided to give Kelly Price the mic, and when they did, I'm sure they gave it to her in one piece. I'll tell you what, though. By the time she was done with it, I have no doubt they had to tag it and put it in the damaged bin. Her jazzy and churchy (yes, both) rendition of "Jesus Loves" will move your entire soul. And destroy mics.
Given the fine piece of work the album is, I'm simultaneously befuddled, yet unsurprised by the reportedly low first week record sales. We could debate for a number of digital pages about the reasons for that, but if you're looking for a stone cold, feel good, quality modern R&B album, you have to check this one out. And by "check out," I mean buy. To honor the diva of divas, proceeds from the album will benefit the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts. If you buy the album, you'll be touched by the music you hear, and in turn your purchase will help keep the arts alive for more than a few children in New Jersey. Not bad, huh? I just hope the powers that be aren't discouraged by sales numbers so far because I'm already looking forward to R&B Divas II. I can only imagine the dream team lineup SoulBouncers would put together for the next project, if given the choice. Can you?