Through 2005, Charlene Keys' career traced a pattern familiar to that of a few R&B peers who arrived during the same era. Her debut album, thanks to a major crossover pop hit, went platinum. The follow-up materialized over two years later, after a label shake-up, featured no mainstream hit, but fared as well on the R&B chart as the debut. It took much longer, however, for the singer known as Tweet to settle into the industry's independent sector, where many of her contemporaries had found relative creative stability. Due to a combination of personal and professional factors, she left music with no desire to return. In 2013, after concentrating on her family and some spiritual realignment, she released the low-key Simply Tweet EP, eventually landed a deal with the refuge eOne, and worked her way toward her third proper album. Like the EP, Charlene has no designs on overtaking commercial radio. Made with many of the musicians and associate songwriters and producers who worked on Southern Hummingbird and It's Me Again, Charlene is a relaxed, dimly lit collection, much of which could be replicated in an intimate setting with a simple instrumental setup. Only a couple songs sound like productions. "Somebody Else Will," the type of confident and casual kiss-off that could have been recorded for any one of Monica's later albums, reunites Tweet with fellow Swing Mob alums Missy Elliott and Timbaland. The elegantly grieving "Dadada.....Struggle" would be just as organic as anything else if it weren't for the treated drums and synthetic strings. Otherwise, Tweet and company keep it simple with only a little shading from bluesy electric guitar and electric piano, and some unobtrusive percussion, added to enhance the mostly light and unhurried rhythms. Tweet has lost nothing vocally while gaining a decade's worth of wisdom. As ever, she exudes euphoria, longing, and irritation with the slightest of adjustments, and remains one of the best soft-voiced, low-volume singers around.
by Andy Kellman