Faith Evans

The First Lady

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The first Faith Evans album without the Bad Boy logo on the sleeve and the word "faith" in the title, The First Lady thankfully offers nothing else in the way of a shake-up. The wait between 2001's Faithfully and this 2005 release was easily the longest in Evans' career. If there was any creative block during the time away, it doesn't show. In fact, The First Lady proves that she only gets better with time, as she goes through more ups and downs and continues to absorb her inspirations. At less than an hour in running time, it's her shortest album to date, which also helps make it her tightest. Where her first three albums are too lengthy, often bogged down with some lukewarm ballads, The First Lady is terrifically balanced in its distribution of club tracks, midtempo grooves, and slow jams -- with a knowing, timely homage to the late Lyn Collins thrown effectively into the mix -- and its tactful sequencing should give a lot of skip and delete buttons a break. Whatever dip in quality that transpires during the latter half of the album has more to do with the first half's excellence and numerous dimensions, including the punchy Neptunes production "Goin' Out," the sparkling "I Don't Need It," the uplifting "Again" (a good match with Fantasia's similarly affirming "Baby Mama"), and "Stop n Go" -- a gorgeous ballad with a devastating chorus. Evans, as always, does the bulk of the songwriting and some of the production with some key help. Jermaine Dupri, Chucky Thompson, Mario Winans, and the ubiquitous Bryan-Michael Cox also assist, but Carvin "Ransum" Haggins and Ivan "Orthodox" Barias deserve a lot of credit for their work on half of the songs. The First Lady is as well-rounded as an R&B album gets, regardless of the age it's part of. Like Teedra Moses' neglected Complex Simplicity, it smartly incorporates throwback aspects into state-of-the-art pop-soul.

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