It has been two years since sultry voiced singer Chrisette Michele released her stunning gold-certified debut I Am. Blessed with a gorgeous instrument and described as a “soulful songbird” by Entertainment Weekly, the Long Island native proved to the world that she could live up to the hype. Nominated for a BET Award for Best New Artist as well as two Grammys, I Am was both a critical success and a fan’s delight. Still, when it came time to begin recording her follow-up, the aptly titled Epiphany, she realized the need to challenge herself. “I felt like I was a little too shy and laidback my first time out,” confesses Chrisette. “On my new project I wanted to raise the bar and step-out of my comfort zone. I wanted to make songs that were more edgy, youthful and urban. Recruiting talented collaborators that include Ne-Yo, the singer/songwriter has infused her jazz vocal style with more pop. Marking a transition away from her traditional leanings to a fuller integration of hip-hop soul, Chrisette Michele was clearly conscious of the next level. Yet, as can clearly be heard on her newest single “Epiphany (I’m Leaving),” the 26-year-old has expanded her musical palette.
Opening with spacey keyboards and girl group backgrounds, Chrisette’s bold declaration of fly girl independence (“It’s over,” she sings) on “Epiphany (I’m Leaving)” sets the tone of most of the disc. Constructed by Ne-Yo and Chuck Harmony, the title-track is a beautiful broken-hearted song that reveals the emotional misery behind Chrisette’s lovely smile. “That word ‘epiphany’ just meant so much to me, because it was during the time that I was preparing to record that something clicked in my spirit.” She’s coming back much tougher! Nowhere does that toughness come across more than on the soulful “Blame It on Me.” An awesome ballad that colors itself with a little Muscle Shoals soul, there is red dirt earthiness that is just completely raw. “You can say whatever you want, as long as its goodbye,” Chrisette wails coldly. Ne-Yo and Harmony were inspired to write “Another One.” Opening with a lovely acoustic guitar and Chrisette singing quietly, “Another One” slowly builds to the point of explosion. “That is my favorite song on the album,” Chrisette admits. Mixing rock guitars with hip-hop drum patterns, the track is an obvious winner. “Nobody captures New American music like Ne-Yo and the Compound crew.”
While angst and heartbreak is part of Chrisette Michele’s persona on her sophomore project, the power and strength of her material gives Epiphany the sound of a future classic. Without a doubt, this is the first great album of 2009.