Keyshia Cole and Jill Scott, Keeping the Music Real

Keyshia Cole's latest album,
Keyshia Cole's latest album, "Just Like You," displays a new, more reflective sensibility. (By Jonathan Mannion)
By Sarah Godfrey
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jill Scott is a free-spirited singer known for laid-back musings on life, and Keyshia Cole is a bold vocalist regarded for her brash attitude and soured-love songs. Both women receive praise for an appealing realness not often associated with contemporary R&B. But, as it turns out, being labeled a down-to-earth Everywoman can be just as confining as the binding clothing that is the uniform of less genuine songstresses.

The Internet is teeming with gossip about Scott and Cole and how personal change has affected their work. Scott, who recently released "The Real Thing: Words and Sounds, Vol. 3," is going through a divorce and testing new hairstyles, but fans apparently miss her old hair and songs about her husband -- you know, "the real Jill." Meanwhile, Cole, whose breakout sophomore effort, "Just Like You," dropped late last month, is branding herself a more mature artist -- but some prefer her (allegedly) flipping on (alleged) ex-boyfriend Young Jeezy and otherwise immersing herself in the sort of drama that pleases the producers of her reality show.

Scott, usually a contented romantic, has new material about haters ("Hate on Me") and liquor-soaked love affairs ("Crown Royal") in the hard knocks-schooled style of Cole. And Cole is exploring Scott's oeuvre by gushing about stable love ("Heaven Sent") and the effort required to maintain it ("Work It Out"). But their respective fans should hold off on arranging an old-fashioned CD swap.

Stripped of preconceived notions about Scott and Cole, "The Real Thing" and "Just Like You" both gorgeously capture a particular point in each woman's life. To hear the scrappy Cole reveal vulnerability and the normally upbeat Scott confess disillusionment is as real as it gets.

Scott's "How It Make You Feel" is, on the surface, a divorce-inspired track about saying goodbye to a man, but then the Philly singer advances the song with a broad stroke, imagining that all of black womankind follows her out the door. The Scott Storch-produced "Epiphany" breezily examines the shallowness of a new physical relationship, but ends with appropriate abruptness and leaves Scott to wonder, "Why do I feel so empty?"

Cole, whose strong vocals and hostility have been a bit "Scary J. Blige" in the past, reveals herself to be a grown woman searching for perspective on bad relationships with "I Remember." She displays similar growth on "Was It Worth It?," a look at infidelity completely opposite from "I Should Have Cheated," from her 2005 debut "The Way It Is."

Yet, despite all of the upheaval documented on both discs, Scott and Cole include songs offering assurance that they haven't changed all that much and are still just regular folks. On the title track, "Just Like You," Cole acknowledges that she's trying to figure out who she is, but knows she's still plain old Keyshia. Scott follows suit, proclaiming herself to be an Average Jill on "Wanna Be Loved." Perhaps the singers felt the need to mollify fans concerned by so much change, but both tracks feel forced -- it's hard to project a stagnant commoner when both have so clearly evolved into something new and extraordinary.

Keyshia Cole is scheduled to perform at 1st Mariner Arena on Nov. 24, and at Verizon Center on Nov. 25.

DOWNLOAD THESE: Scott: "Crown Royal," "How It Make You Feel," "Wanna Be Loved"; Cole: "I Remember," "Work It Out," "Was It Worth It?"

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