Lyfe Jennings

Lyfe 268-192

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Opening with an intro and going right into a talky interlude, you just know Lyfe 268-192 is a heavy-with-message, ambitious album that's going to flirt with ponderous disaster. Quit worrying, because what Lyfe Jennings has to say is worth hearing, well presented for the most part, and you only have to excuse some overeagerness. The biggest problem with this smooth, thinking singer's debut is that there's no prologue or "hey, how ya doing?" Instead, Jennings vividly pours out his troubles with little background, assuming you're down. A couple listens later and you'll get him, but few debuts are this wandering and deep from the get-go. What makes it worth it is Jennings' honest, poignant, and warm writing, empowering at times and occasionally heartbreaking. "Made Up My Mind," "She's Got Kids," and "Must Be Nice" all display the kind of Gil Scott-Heron realism meets D'Angelo smokiness and Bilal soul-searching that had Jennings take the amateur title five times at the Apollo, but "Greedy" is the album's centerpiece. It's only one side of what is a most definitely a complicated story, but "Greedy"'s tale of being chased by the cops for child support is a chilling can of worms few artists could open so confidently. The metaphor-free track is a stark portrayal of "this crazy, lazy lady" who is using a baby for revenge, and when Jennings sings about his friends dismissing him as a worrywart, it captures with crystal clarity the isolation that so many experience when confronting a crisis. A couple tracks refuse to get to the point and too much narration gives sections of the album the repeat listening appeal of an audio book. It could have been tighter and more approachable, but few debuts hold this much promise.

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