That understated confidence also drives Faith Evans’s first album in five years, which serves as her first indie release following stints with Bad Boy and Capitol. (Because it’s that time of year, allow me to heartily recommend the latter label’s 2005 offering A Faithful Christmas, on which the former Mrs. Biggie Smalls offers up some of the most emotionally complicated holiday music I’ve heard.) Something About Faith features high-wattage guest shots by Snoop Dogg and Raekwon (each of whom claims the singer as his homegirl), but with its cozy home-fire thematics and tasteful quiet-storm arrangements, the disc always feels like Evans’s grown-up show. An r&b traditionalist with hip-hop history, she makes no bones about her old-fashioned value system, as she outlines in literal laundry-list fashion on “Real Things”: “Security, serenity, stability,” she sings. “Loyalty, honesty, sanity.” For who else would that constitute a hook?

R. Kelly, still at it, thank goodness
Randee St. Nicholas
R. Kelly, still at it, thank goodness

Evans goes frothier for her own cameo on Eric Benét’s “Feel Good,” a precisely calibrated (and thoroughly delightful) classic-Chic pastiche that proves the former Mr. Halle Berry wasn’t kidding when he titled his new one Lost in Time. Elsewhere on this crafty album, Benét expertly channels the plush balladry of mid-’80s Luther Vandross (“Never Live Without You”), the propulsive zing of early-’70s Philly soul (“Paid,” featuring Eddie Levert himself), and the frantic cheer of last-days disco (“Good Life”). His most impressive trip backward, though, comes in “Sometimes I Cry,” which couldn’t sound more like an outtake from Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night if it sprouted pretty wings and flew the urban hang suite. “Two years since you walked away from me,” Benét falsetto-izes over a spacey electric-piano groove, “since all of our scattered dreams were just thrown away.” That line may or may not be Benét’s attempt to claim a point of inspiration predating Maxwell’s 2009 return. Either way, its invocation of a powerful memory feels firmly like a product of its time.

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