Chrisette Michele - Epiphany

Posted May 7, 2009

Some artists seep slowly into your consciousness like smoke, while others burn through the...

Epiphany Album Review

Some artists seep slowly into your consciousness like smoke, while others burn through the periphery like a wildfire, becoming a part of your musical life seemingly overnight. For me, Christette Michelle was a wildfire. I had driven nearly 50 miles to see Common, so I barely paid attention when they announced the opening act - until a confident young woman preceded to tear the place down with an easy charisma and a voice straight out of the jazz’s golden era. From that moment on Chrisette Michele was seemingly everywhere: when I was banging new Roots tracks, when my friend popped L.A.X. into the stereo. Everywhere I listened, there she was.

So when the new Chrisette Michele album Epiphany appeared in my mailbox I felt like I was greeting an old friend. Now I’m not the only one to recognize the powerful songstress’ talent, she is the proud owner of a Grammy, but unfortunately all that vocal expertise didn’t translate into album sales. Understandably, Michele takes a more well-rounded approach on Epiphany, venturing into the pop landscape while remained rooted in her jazz and blues background. The effect is an album that covers a lot of surface area, but not with enough depth to make it truly extraordinary. Epiphany is the definition of quality, but I’d be surprised if it inspired any epiphanies of its own.

(Quick detour: Chrisette Michele has one of those names where the first name and last name is a package deal, you almost have to say them together. Unlike Kobe or Kanye, it just doesn’t feel right calling her just Chrisette, or Michele. Hell, I bet even her mom calls her Christette Michele.)

A warning to all the lovers out there with plans of pouring champagne, lighting candles and putting on some music; Epiphany is by no means a romantic album. Just take the title track Epiphany – a softly layered song whose central epiphany is not a glorious awakening, it’s the declaration that Michele’s “almost over being your girlfriend.” Epiphany has a deceptively simple harmony and melody, but Chrisette Michele complicates her independent woman anthem with trademark flourishes and inflections. Similarly disillusioned is the smooth What You Do, a track dripping with Ne-Yo’s pop storytelling influence. A great song can spring the listener into action, so if you’re a cheating guy you might want to keep your lady away from What You Do, you’ll probably end up single. In fact, the only legitimately romantic song on the album is the airy Notebook, an acoustically oriented cut reminiscent of Alicia Key’s ode to young love, Teenage Love Affair. Chrisette Michele is too good of a songwriter to offer simple I love you/I hate you sentiments, and Epiphany is the work of a full grown woman, and a full grown musician.

What’s strange is that for all the album’s undeniable quality, I’m oddly unmoved by the album as a whole. There’s a difference between appreciating music and loving music, and while Chrisette Michele makes me appreciate her new album like crazy, I just didn’t fall in love with Epiphany. Take Playin Our Song, one of the album’s most hard hitting joints. Playin is the story of a strong woman, a woman strong enough to resist syrupy break up songs, but Chrisette Michele’s vocals are almost too good; even a small crack in her voice would have revealed her pain and drawn me closer (see Mary J. Blige for how it’s done). Similarly, the orchestral On My Own is the album’s truest ballad, but I couldn’t help but feel like Chrisette Michele was holding back. By contrast, my favorite songs on Epiphany, the brilliant Blame It On Me and the retro Mr. Right, reveal a singer unafraid to show us her highs and lows, a singer much like the young woman I saw at that concert years ago now. Are these high standards? Yes, but anything lower would be an insult to Chrisette Michele’s talent. I can’t wait for her to produce an album that does full justice to her abilities, and while Epiphany is the work of a uniquely beautiful voice, it’s not that album.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted May 7, 2009
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