Kierra "Kiki" Sheard

This Is Me

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As if making a statement, Kierra "KiKi" Sheard titled her sophomore album This Is Me, perhaps intending it as a knock to the all-over-the-placeness of her breakout debut, I Owe You. That first set earned her raves from gospel critics and listeners -- it also made history when it shot to the top of Billboard's gospel sales tally, a first for a female debut -- but it was too obvious an attempt to capitalize on the rising urban gospel market and her church-grounded pedigree as the daughter of the Clark Sisters' Karen Clark-Sheard. By contrast, This Is Me is nowhere near as calculated: it's more genuinely urban, befitting Sheard's age and sidestepping the ingratiatingly traditional side of I Owe You. As with most young performers, the disc is still handled by a bevy of producers and collaborators, but at least the songs never make Sheard sound out of character. Sassy and soulful, the vibe appears to be more truly her, as evidenced in the strains of hard-hitting contemporary R&B ("You're the Only One"), horn-splashed pop-funk ("Yes"), and even neo-soul ("Have What You Want") scattered throughout the album. The latter style allows Sheard to even wax introspective, laying her soul bare in reflective midtempo jams like "Why Me," "Faith," and "Hear Me," all of which position her more as a budding soul diva than a gospel starlet on the rise. Good for her: while This Is Me isn't always a smooth ride -- Sheard still seems to be finding her voice in spots -- it outdoes the debut in that it presents a more accurate picture of where she, not her family or her label, wants to head artistically.

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