Faith Evans

The First Lady (Capitol)

On 2001's scattershot Faithfully, Evans played second diva to production heavyweights who yanked her from style to style until she lost her identity. The former Mrs. Biggie Smalls has plenty of name-brand help this time, too, but Lady is a cohesive package that proves there's more to her than celebrity widowhood.

The CD sports a handful of upbeat songs, including "Goin' Out," co-starring the ubiquitous Pharrell, and the incredibly infectious "Mesmerized." For the most part, though, Evans embraces drama the Mary J. way, and the material suits her. "Again," the lead single, is a stirring confessional, while "I Don't Need It" and "Get Over You" use her mellifluous voice to survey the soul of romance.

A few missteps occur, including a spoken section that disrupts the flow of "Until You Came." (Someone should have told Evans that the phrase "You got me straight trippin', boo" has been a punchline since Eugene Levy said it in Bringing Down the House.) Still, the album as a whole is her strongest to date. She may not be the first lady yet, but have a little Faith.

 
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