I Will

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Though she was signed to Madonna's Maverick label in 2003, it took Detroit native MoZella a few years to put together her debut album, I Will. First came the 5-song self-titled EP in July of 2005, and then, after some delay, the full-length -- which contains everything off the EP -- was released in November of the following year. Despite her many connections to her labelhead (including a strong resemblance to her: the back cover of the album almost looks like it could have come from the Ray of Light photo shoot), MoZella sounds a lot more like Nelly Furtado (Whoa, Nelly! urban-rootsy Furtado, that is, not Timbaland-era Loose Furtado) than the Material Girl. With a voice like Macy Gray or Norah Jones, she sings melodically interesting pop songs full of introspection and vulnerability countered with just the right amount of bitterness. I Will is an album for pop music fans who want to expand their boundaries without crossing over into indie territory; it's got a little more edge and a little more soul than most other major label releases, but it's still very safe and accessible, and though Mo's lyrics can be pretty good ("Was I just killing time, was I just filling space/Sitting on a land mine, sipping drinks that were laced," from "Killing Time") they're never too abstract or pretentious, and they're always about what everyone wants to hear: love, both its ups and its downs. MoZella seems human, like the songs she's written are actually for and about herself. In fact, it's when there's too much outside input that things don't work as well. "Love Is Something" and "What to Say," two of the few tracks on which she is only a co-writer, are the two least successful pieces on the album, because both try to make the singer into something she's not. The first is just pure pop syrup, while the latter, with its bossa nova beat, doesn't coalesce with MoZella's voice. Better to stick with the acoustic guitar and keys over hip-hop flavored beats and fantastically catchy hooks that fill up the rest of I Will and that also worked so well for Nelly, because when Mo does what she does best -- the aforementioned "Killing Time," "Amnesia," "Light Years Away," "Can't Stop" (coincidentally, pretty much everything found on her EP) -- she's one of the best things to come out of pop music this year.

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