British soul woman Beverley Knight has yet to be fully embraced by the record-buying public despite possessing perhaps one of the most phenomenal voices around. The disappointing chart performances of her first two albums, The B-Funk and Prodigal Sista, cemented the belief that while her talent is unquestionable, her material just isn't strong enough to propel her into the mainstream. This, however, should all change with Who I Am, a well-produced collection of contemporary R&B songs that is just as confident and self-assured as her more celebrated U.S. contemporaries. The feisty first single, "Get Up," sets the tone immediately, allowing Knight to show off her astonishing vocals amidst some slinky dancehall rhythms. Elsewhere, the funky "Same" channels '80s Prince just as convincing as OutKast, while "Whatever's Clever" is the kind of powerhouse R&B that En Vogue innovated in the early '90s. The ballads are just as strong. "Fallen Soldier," a tribute to murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, is a stripped-down acoustic number filled with raw emotion; "Bestseller Mystery," with its slide guitar, sounds like a lost blues classic; and "Beautiful Contradiction" is a soothing soulful duet with Stevie Wonder sound-alike Musiq (Soulchild). Occasionally, the album veers into the kind of bland MOR territory that has often blighted Britain's more recent soul singers (Mica Paris, Shara Nelson). "Hurricane Jane" is rather monotonous, tune-free neo-soul, and "Gold"'s dated-sounding production positions Knight as more of a lounge singer than an accomplished R&B talent. But overall, Who I Am is still a colossal leap. After seven years of being an also-ran, Knight now has the material to back up her world-class vocals. The big time surely awaits.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien
feat: Musiq Soulchild