Keyshia Cole

The Way It Is

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An advantage Keyshia Cole has over a lot of her young contemporaries is experience. As a foster child growing up in Oakland, she went through a lot of downs, and from the sounds of The Way It Is, her first album, she's had her share of complex relationships. Cole had a hand in the writing of just about every track, and she has a number of major players -- Kanye West, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Ron Fair (Christina Aguilera, Mya), E-Poppi (Missy Elliott, Destiny's Child) -- in her corner. With only a couple exceptions, The Way It Is is about the ugly parts of a romantic relationship, so there's little room left for upbeat material. From the opener, "(I Just Want It) To Be Over," the album seems to be set up like a linear narrative about a crumbling relationship, but it doesn't quite play out that way, with the scenes shuffled out of order. ("Love," one of the positive songs, comes after the song where the punk gets dumped and before the song where he's called out for changing.) None of it's all that profound, but Cole sells it all extremely well, especially on "I Should Have Cheated," where she tires of an accusing and hypocritical lover ("I should go have my fun and do all the things you say I do"). Cole's voice is sweet and ringing, like a wiser version of Lil' Mo who has had to weather a tremendous amount of drama. She could be around for a while. ("Never," her hit song from the Barbershop 2 soundtrack, is included.)

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