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Heather Headley

This Is Who I Am

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Though she didn't come out of the R&B tradition, Heather Headley has plenty of soul on her debut, This Is Who I Am. Headley, a singer whose vocal strength isn't mere compensation for a lack of interpretive skills or lame songwriting, possesses a range that's surprising and welcome; she slips on dramatic personas continually here, quite ironic considering the title. The arrangements aren't exactly hooky, but the cast of producers -- including Dallas Austin, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and D'Influence, use everything in their power -- from a Hammond B-3 to synthesizers -- to flesh out these songs. Occasionally, the songs don't reflect their age very well, as on the regrets of a stay-at-home girlfriend ("I Wish I Wasn't") or an increasingly angry housewife who's been neglected ("Like Ya Used To"). The opener, "He Is" (by songwriter/producer Joshua Nile), is very good though -- an intriguing angle on female thoughts about the male side of love (or, just possibly, a look at the aspects of God). Headley sounds excellent throughout, her voice pure as crystal on the ballads, occasionally outré in similar fashion to Mariah Carey, but gritty and soulful when she's sorting out the responsibilities of a relationship in "Fulltime."

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