Album: Faith Evans

The First Lady, EMI
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With this first album for EMI, Evans finally breaks free of P Diddy, her mentor since before she married the late Notorious BIG (hers was the voice behind the hook to Puffy's tribute "I'll Be Missing You"). Emboldened by the success of 2001's Faithfully, Evans and husband Todd Russaw have taken full control, drafting in the likes of Jermaine Dupri, Mario Winans, Chucky Thompson and (of course) The Neptunes for production duties. The latter helm the opener "Goin' Out", a basic party joint that doesn't really present Evans at her best: there's an uncertainty at the upper reaches of her register. Much better are her own "Mesmerized", whose guitar riff and vocal melody recall The Temptations, and the single "Again", on which Evans reflects, accompanied by some lovely, languid Memphis soul guitar licks: "If I had to do it all again, I wouldn't take away the rain/ 'Cos I know it made me who I am". Much of the album is concerned with familiar matters of the heart, Faith "straight trippin'" over previously unfelt emotions in "Until You Came", wondering whether she and her lover are ready to commit in "Stop n Go", and caught in mutual perplexity with Mario Winans in "Ever Wonder". But, mercifully, the diva stylings are kept to a bare minimum.