"The First Lady"


Say this for platinum-selling R&B singer, Notorious B.I.G. widow and P. Diddy protege Faith Evans: She has no problem speaking her mind. "The First Lady," her fourth CD, features the hit single "Again," which alludes to Evans's arrest for drug possession last year and the ensuing media coverage. "Everything ain't what it seems / Just because it's on TV / 'Cause they speculate and exaggerate for a better story," Evans cautions.

Still, "The First Lady" is about soul grooves, not personal grievances. No longer on P. Diddy's Bad Boy label, Evans seems more intent than ever on finding some middle ground between R&B and hip-hop, a pop niche that reflects her primary influences and suits her lithe vocals. She often succeeds, too, especially on "Jealous," a confessional ballad that's as blunt as it is passionately rendered. "I don't really mind all your female friends and all," Evans cautions. "Just know that I'm possessive and aggressive when it comes to you."

"Mesmerized" also ranks as one of the album's fatal attractions, though this time around the heat is cranked up to an ecstatic pitch: "Got me looking so crazy right now / Make me want to clap my hands / Make me want to stomp my feet / Make me feel real good / Real good / When you put the thang on me."

"The First Lady" disappoints when the lyrics turn trite, as on the "don't-go-changing" refrain "Tru Love," and other miscues. But for the most part it appears that Evans has found what she's been looking for -- a comfortable place to call her own.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday at Dream.

Faith Evans.