The bold title of Faith Evans’ latest album, “The First Lady,” may or may not reference the confidence the soul diva enjoys after having shed 13 kg, an accomplishment that places her in the telegenic league of Ashanti and Beyonce. Musically, however, her only rival is former mentor Mary J. Blige, who remains proudly zaftig. Whatever. If losing weight makes Faith surer of her gifts, then more power to her — these are the best songs she’s ever recorded.
Having finally transcended her media image as The Notorious B.I.G.’s widow and escaped the megalomaniacal shadow of P. Diddy, Faith seems ready to take her rightful place at the front of the class. She’s finally showing off the classical chops she honed as a music major in college, not just as a singer, but also as one of the best songwriters in contemporary R&B. Downplaying hip-hop and boosting the kind of jazzy soul that Jill Scott made acceptable to urban radio, Faith revels in her own bodacious gorgeousness without losing sight of the prize — a hook to hang on to. Even when she allows her voice to be multitracked she manages to invest the song with the kind of funky joy that only a true original could pull off: She’s one of the few major label R&B singers who trusts her instincts more than her producers. Having not heard her upcoming Christmas album, which will be released in Japan on the day of her one Tokyo appearance, we can’t comment on her brand of yuletide cheer, but we’ll assume she’ll keep the carols to a minimum in concert. It isn’t even Thanksgiving yet.