Lyfe Jennings

Tree of Lyfe

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The font and color scheme of Lyfe Jennings' sixth album conspicuously resemble those of Janet Jackson's Number Ones. The same can't be said of the tree-shaped tangle of bodies. The contrast is somewhat emblematic of Jennings' music -- not particularly distinctive on the surface, but peering beneath it, there's something visible that's uniquely his, even when his observations regarding everyday life verge on platitudes. As ever, Jennings has a lot of wisdom to offer regarding self-betterment and relationships, but he still never seems preachy, sounding as if he's just trying to work through issues himself. The "you" he addresses could sometimes be him. High points are spread throughout the sequence. A simple, direct love song that recalls Al Green and Lenny Williams begins it, followed by a resonant Algebra Blessett duet ("We're Not the Same") and a ballad that neither judges nor objectifies a stripper ("Pretty Is"). "Always," a sweetly romantic ballad of devotion, ends the album as strongly as it began. It's among Jennings' best work.

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