Beverley Knight

100%

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Despite possessing perhaps the U.K.'s most authentic soulful voice, Wolverhampton's finest, Beverley Knight, has often struggled to find material as strong to accompany it. Since 2002's Mercury Music Prize-nominated Who I Am, she's flirted with genre-hopping pop on the commercial but unfocused Affirmation, and old-school Nashville R&B on the mediocre pastiche of Music City Soul, but both have failed to live up to her reputation as the Queen of British Soul. With contributions from Janet Jackson's long-term collaborators Jam & Lewis, legendary soul diva Chaka Khan, and Kevin Bacon, bassist in new wave outfit the Comsat Angels, Knight's sixth studio album, 100% appears to have jumped on the ubiquitous '80s revival bandwagon. But unlike the electro-pop of La Roux and Little Boots, her first release since leaving Parlophone to set up her own label, Hurricane Records, instead echoes the classy soul balladry of Anita Baker ("Bare"), the synth-heavy funk of Alexander O'Neal ("Breakout"), and the acid-jazz leanings of early Brand New Heavies ("Turned to Stone"). It's a change in direction which, unlike her recent output, feels like a natural progression, its authentic groove-fueled production, thankfully free of Auto-Tune, allowing Knight's effortlessly smooth and expressive vocals to shine. Elsewhere, "In Your Shoes" is a Sister Sledge-esque slice of nu-disco which samples Orange Juice's 1981 hit "Rip It Up," "Soul Survivor," originally written for Tina Turner, is a toe-tapping gospel-rock duet with her musical idol Khan, while the lolloping funk of "Gold Chain" recalls the sassy harmonies of early En Vogue. The cover version of Bee Gees' "Too Much Heaven," performed here with Robin Gibb, is a schmaltzy karaoke-style rendition which sits at odds with the rest of the album's more inventive nature, while the likes of "Square Peg" and "Painted Pony" lack the killer hook to elevate them from being mere filler. But, seemingly determined to work her way through the soul music of each decade, the impressively slick and self-assured 100% suggests that it's the '80s where Knight feels most comfortable.

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