Chrisette Michele deserved better production than she was getting. Although she shined recently on Nas’ Nat King Cole tribute “Can’t Forget About You” and The Roots’ energetic go-go-infused “Rising Up,” her smoky jazz vocals were sometimes out of place on her 2007 debut, I Am.
Epiphany is an attempt at a new direction for Michele. Executive-produced and co-written by Def Jam R&B labelmate Ne-Yo, the album deals with heartbreak and the full range of emotions it entails: from the initial realization on “Epiphany (I’m Leaving),” a sassy breakup song accompanied by spacey synthesizers and robotic percussion, to “I’m Okay.” The latter is a slowly bubbling piano ballad with a crescendo that finds Michele finally finding solace over layered harp plucks and electric guitars.
Her vocals are the main attraction throughout. Michele has a dynamic range, and her sultry voice often channels jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. The best moments include the self-deprecating “Blame It On Me,” where she accepts responsibility despite the breakup not being her fault, and the upbeat doo-wop-influenced “Mr. Right.”
But sub-par production often detracts from her great vocals. Even with a strong opening and a stronger ending, some of Epiphany‘s middle area, including “All I Ever Think About” and “Playin’ Our Song,” are generic and unmemorable both musically and lyrically, resorting to standard adult contemporary balladry.
Regardless, Michele proves to be a unique voice in contemporary R&B. Epiphany further solidifies her talents and proves that soul singers don’t need to cater to pop and hip-hop sensibilities to be noticed.