In her latest bid for divadom, Chante Moore has lined up some of the world's top diva producers and songwriters -- Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson), Rodney Jerkins (Whitney Houston), Jermaine Dupri (Mariah Carey) and Diane Warren (all of them). These folks don't come cheap, but the investment paid off, for Moore's third album, "This Moment Is Mine," is her best by far. Like Jackson, Moore doesn't have the world's strongest voice, but like her role model Moore convincingly inhabits the songs with a girl-next-door personality that's at once disarming and alluring.
This is most obvious on the album's first hit single, "Chante's Got a Man," which begins with a spoken skit where Moore and her friends are complaining about men. When the song begins, Moore keeps the same just-among-friends attitude as she informs her grumbling pals that she's found a good man. Like 10 of the 12 songs on the album, Moore co-wrote this one with her famous producers, and her personal investment comes through in the performance.
The album is full of R&B diva cliches, especially when Moore and Jodeci's Jo Jo try to out-sing each other on Warren's maudlin "I See You in a Different Light." But when everyday life connects with a catchy chorus, as on Jerkins's "If I Gave Love" or Jam & Lewis' "I Cry to Myself," Moore's charisma comes through.
Calvin Richardson has titled his debut album after his nickname, "Country Boy." The "country," though, refers not to the Nashville sound but to Richardson's rural North Carolina roots and his ability to sound like such Southern soul veterans as Latimore and Tyrone Davis. Richardson is young enough that he once sang gospel with half of Jodeci but he still pulls off a convincing cover of old-timer Bobby Womack's "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much." Even more impressive is Richardson's ability to update that classic sound on songs written and produced by himself or by Gerald Isaac. An overlooked gem.
Jesse Powell has already scored a hit single, "You," off his second album, " 'Bout It," but both the single and the album combine the least interesting elements of smooth-jazz, new-jack swing and "quiet storm" crooning. The songs themselves have little to offer in terms of lyrics or melody, and Powell's efforts to spice them up with melismatic moaning soon descends into self-parody. Jerkins's "She Wasn't Last Night" is the album's most interesting number but only because it's a thinly disguised rewrite of MeShell Ndegeocello's "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)."
All appearing Wednesday at the Warner Theatre, Sept. 29 at Richmond's Carpenter Center, and Sept. 30 at Baltimore's Morris Mechanic Theatre. To hear a free Sound Bite from Chante Moore, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8104. For a Sound Bite from Calvin Richardson, press 8105. For a Sound Bite from Jesse Powell, press 8106. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)