Sultry crooner an instant soulful classic

With all the mindless garbage – yes, Soulja Boy, I’m looking at you – currently vying for the attention of young consumers, it’s easy to fall under the impression that today’s music is devoid of substance. However, although mainstream radio stations typically reiterate the same tunes again and again, there are many existing and emerging artists out there that keep quality music alive. Chrisette Michele is one of the latter.

After memorable turns singing the choruses to Jay-Z’s “Lost Ones” and Nas’s “Can’t Forget About You,” Chrisette delivers her debut album I Am, featuring hotshot producers like Babyface, John Legend and Will.I.Am. With a sweet, powerful and – above all – soulful voice, she already possesses all the ferocity of a seasoned pro. Recalling legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, I Am manages to combine old-school soul style with modern sensibilities just as effectively as Amy Winehouse’s Grammy-nominated Back to Black.

As far as content goes, the album, like much of contemporary R&B, focuses primarily on slow jams. On the opening track “Like a Dream,” Chrisette revels in the joy of new love. “Work It Out,” in which she assures her beloved that their relationship is not beyond repair, sounds stunningly like an Alicia Keys track. In addition, “Best of Me” manages to convey Chrisette’s desire for freedom and self-reflection in a surprisingly cliché-free way.

“If I Have My Way,” the current single, is among the best tracks. If Chrisette has an instant classic on this disc, this is it. Her performance here is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

“Your Joy” – another highlight – finds Chrisette singing a sweet serenade to her father. Driven by a simple but elegant set of strings, the track is easily the most poignant on the album, with lyrics like “No one can compare to the way my eyes fit in yours / You’ll always be my father … / And I’ll always be your joy.”

Ballads are clearly Chrisette’s strong suit and, for the most part, she stays faithful to that ideal.

On the few up-tempo songs, the results are decidedly mixed. “Be OK,” featuring Will.I.Am, sets itself apart with a relentless brass groove that plays up the obvious influence of jazz on Chrisette’s style, and “Let’s Rock” is appealing enough but comes off as a filler track.

The album’s only absolute misfire is “Good Girl,” in which Chrisette proclaims that “I don’t need a suga daddy / I could be a suga mommy.” This tune’s up-tempo, hip-hop style does not mesh well with her voice or the tone of the album.

Regardless, the remaining 13 tracks – there’s a hidden bonus track called “I Am One” – are exceptional and place Chrisette in the same league as established soul divas like Alicia Keys, Jill Scott and Angie Stone.

Although I Am may not be groundbreaking, Chrisette Michele – who cowrote every single track – has established herself as an artist to watch, proudly continuing the sassy soul of those who have come before her.

Grade: B+Standout Tracks

  • “If I Have My Way”
  • “Your Joy”
  • “Love is You”