Grown Folks Music
Remember Brownstone? No, not “Mr. Brownstone,” you metal goons — I’m talking about mid-’90s R&B female trio Brownstone, the ones who sang “If You Love Me” and “5 Miles to Empty” and all those jawns. Well, this is the first solo album from Nicci Gilbert from that group. It’s a soul album, and she sings beautifully, and she co-wrote and co-produced just about the whole thing, which shows she’s got ambition, etc. But ambition and chops aren’t the whole story in soul music; one must also know how to connect with the listener, and this is one of the more disconnected soul albums I have ever heard.
You know she’s in trouble from the very first track, “My Side of the Story.” The narratrix is explaining to her current boyfriend that the reason he caught her with her old boyfriend is that she was saying goodbye to him. Come on, Nicci — that is just about as corny as can be, and no WAY he’s gonna buy it. Similarly, no way are we gonna buy you as a gangsta luvva on “Woman In Need,” just because the hook is you calling your guy “my nigga” over and over and over and over again. You’re about as street as Alicia Keys, which is to say: not.
Similar problems crop up all over the album. “Summer” is pretty enough until you realize that it sounds exactly like a Jill Scott outtake, at which point it just sounds like a huge ripoff. “I Got it Bad” could be just as easily retitled “Housed From Babyface,” and the tricky cuteness of “She’ll Never Love You” and “Down With This” is just way too soft-headed to make an impression, especially because the whole album shares the same tempo. Every lover knows you HAVE to change up the tempo sometime. (Not to mention writing interesting lyrics.)
Which is not to say that anything here sounds bad or yucky. Gilbert has an elastic, sexy voice, and I’m digging on “Hot Spot” (woof) and the Dirty Southed-up “Headlights” majorly. Sadly, the best thing on the record is the throwaway “R&B Interlude,” which has an inventive beat and a good scenario, but which is truncated just as it gets started, like she’s embarrassed of it or something. I guess the test of a true musical artist is having a built-in quality control center…I’m just afraid that Gilbert doesn’t have that about her own gifts.
Some ambition, please! Just because it’s Grown Folks Music doesn’t mean that it has to be Boring Folks Music.
MCA Records: http://www.mcarecords.com